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Faerie Hollow
The Cottingley Faeries

Nine-year-old Frances Griffiths
was in trouble.She had been
playing down near the stream
called Cottingley beck and had
slipped on wet stepping stones,
falling into the water soaking
her shoes and stockings. Her
mother would not be pleased.
Especially since her mother had
told Frances to stay away from
the stream.

In that year, 1917,Frances
Griffiths had just arrived in
England from South Africa and
she and her mother were
staying with Frances's aunt.
Frances and her cousin,
sixteen-year-old Elsie Wright,
often played together near the
beck to the annoyance of their
mothers. When Frances
returned from the stream that
day with wet feet, her mother
persisted in asking her why she
constantly returned to that
forbidden place. The girl's
answer precipitated a strang
affair that lasted nearly 70
years and involved one of the
greatest literary minds of the

She told her mother she went
to see the fairies. Her mother
and aunt greeted this
statement with disbelief.
Frances's cousin Elsie added
that she had seen the fairies
too, and suggested to Frances
that they borrow Mr. Wright's
camera and take some
photographs of them. Within a
half hour of taking the camera,
they were back begging Elsie's
father to develop the film
plates for them. After tea, Mr.
Wright (with Elsie at this side)
developed the film in his
darkroom. He was astonished
when the picture showed
Frances looking straight at the
camera while a group of five
fairies danced before her on an
earthen bank. After the initial
surprise, Mr. Wright dismissed
the fairies as cardboard
cutouts. He knew his daughter
was a talented artist who
enjoyed drawing fairy figures.
Eventually Mr. Wright stopped
loaning his camera to his
daughter and niece after they
took another photo with Elsie
posed next to what appeared
to be a gnome.

Except for a few copies of the
pictures given to friends and
family the whole matter might
have stayed a private affair. In
1919 the mothers Polly Wright
and Annie Griffiths attended a
meeting about Theosophy.
Theosophy was philosophy that
included in its teaching the
possibility of nature spirits.
After the meeting was over the
women approached the speaker
about the pictures. This
brought the photographs to the
attention of Edward Gardner, a
well-known leader in the
Theosophical movement. He
wrote to Polly Wright telling her
that the photographs were "the
best of its kind I should think
anywhere." Gardner obtained
from the Wrights the original
negative glass plates and sent
them to photographic expert
Harold Snelling. It was said of
Snelling, "What Snelling doesn't
know about faked photography
isn't worth knowing."

After examing them Snelling
concluded, "This plate is a
single exposure. These dancing
figures are not made of paper
nor any fabric; they are not
painted on a photographic
background-but what gets me
most is that all these figures
have moved during the
exposure." What Snelling meant
by his last sentence was that
the camera's shutter speed
must have been set very low
(something that can be
confirmed by the movement of
the blurred waterfall behind
Frances in the first picture)
and that the fairies appeared
to be blurred as if the exposure
had caught them moving in
their dance.

Gardner showed the pictures to
his cousin, who in turn brought
them to the attention of Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle. Conan
Doyle was author of the
Sherlock Holmes stories as well
as several novels including The
Lost World.

Conan Doyle was a member of
the Spiritualist movement and
believed that the living could
communicate with the dead
through psychics and seances.
He was very open to the idea
of fairies and welcomed the
photos as evidence of a world
beyond physical reality. Conan
Doyle considered going to
Bradford himself to interview
the family, but was too busy
preparing for a trip to Australia.
He asked Gardner to go

After talking to the girls,
Gardner reported to Conan
Doyle that he believed they
were telling the truth. Conan
Doyle then used the pictures in
a story he was writing about
fairies for The Strand magazine
and suggested that more
photographs be taken while the
girls were being observed by a
"disinterested witness."






The article received much
criticism. Major Edward Halls,
a radium expert, wrote: "On
the evidence I have no
hesitation in saying that
these photographs could
have been faked. I criticize
the attitude of those who
declare there is something
supernatural in the
circumstances attending to
the taking of these pictures
because, as a medical man, I
believe that the inculcation
of such absurd ideas into the
minds of children will result in
later life in manifestations
and nervous disorder and
mental disturbances..."

In 1920 Edward Gardner
returned to Bradford with a
new cameras and persuaded
the girls to try to get some
more fairy pictures. In a few
weeks they had taken several
additional photographs with
fairies in them. This made a
total of five.

In 1921 a well-known
clairvoyant, Geoffrey Hodson
,was brought to Cottingley to
see if he could detect the
spirits. He claimed that he,
like the girls, could swhether
the girls had actually
captured fairies on film.

Meanwhile the world lost
track of Elsie and Frances. In
1966 Peter Chambers of the
Daily Express decided to do a
follow-up on the stories and
located Elsie. She told him in
an interview that the fairies
might have been "figments of
my imagination," but it was
unclear if she meant that she
had indeed faked the
photographs or somehow
believed she had
photographed her thoughts.

Five years later the BBC-TV
program Nationwide
approached Elsie for another
interview. Elsie seemed very
evasive on whether she had
actually photographed real
fairies and the BBC crew
came to the conclusion that
the pictures had been paper
cutouts made to stand up
with hat pins.

Finally in 1981 and 1982 Joe
Cooper interviewed Frances
and Elsie for an article in The
Unexplained. Elsie admitted
that all five of the
photographs had been faked.
Frances claimed
that the first four had been
faked, but the fifth was real.
Both ladies contended they
had indeed seen real fairies
near the beck. The hoax had
been carried out by using the
cutout and hatpin method as
many people had suspected.
Elsie had some art training
and drew the characters
based on drawings by Arthur
Shepperson in Princess Mary's
Gift Book of which Frances
owned a copy. Using a sharp
pairof scissors owned by
Frances's mother, they cut
them out and secured them
to a bank of earth with hat
pins. After the photographs
were taken, they dropped the
evidence into the stream and

brought the camera back to
Elsie's father so that he could
develop the pictures. Though
some had suspected Mr.
Wright of being in on the
hoax, the girls deny he knew
anything about it.

Looking at the photographs
now, it seems amazing
anyone could not see that
the figures are
one-dimensional cardboard or
paper cutouts. In a careful
examination of the gnome
picture, it is possible to see
where the pin passes through
the paper. Elsie herself in
1982 expressed surprise that
so many people were fooled
by what seemed to her an
obvious fake.

Still, we must remember that
photography was a new art
then and people were not as
experienced in seeing
photographs as we are
today. Also the images were
cleaned up and sharpened for
their publication in The
Strand. Finally, perhaps we
can excuse some of Conan
Doyle's gullibility in accepting
the images remembering that
he had a photographic expert
(Snelling) examine the
pictures and state they were
not fakes. What excuse
Snelling might have had is
hard to imagine..

The story of the Cottingley
Fairies was put to film in 1997
under the title Photographing

Perhaps the whole affair can
best be summed up by a
quote from a columnist in the
newspaper Truth on the
Conan Doyle's Strand article.

"For the true explanation of
these fairy photographs what
is wanted is not a knowledge
of occult phenomena, but a
knowledge of children."