In 1916/1917 Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two young girls living in Cottingley, England, produced the most famous of all fairy pictures which are still debated. The first photograph was taken in July 1917 and showed Frances with the fairies. Frances and Elsie had been teased about their story of seeing fairies near Cottingley Beck. Elsie borrowed her father's quarter plate camera ,which he set to 1/50s at f/11 for her, and after some rudimentary instruction on how to operate it, she went off with Frances into the area where the beck ran among the trees behind the family home. An hour later they returned triumphant.
Strange Images Materialize When Photo Plate Developed
When Mr. Arthur Wright (one of the earliest qualified electrical engineers), and Elsie went into the dark room that evening to develop the plate, there were the fairies. Arthur asked what those bits of paper were doing on the picture? The second photograph of the gnome resulted in the girls being banned from borrowing the camera again. The photographs were put away by Mr. Wright in a drawer as he considered them to be pranks. (Mrs. Wright was convinced of their authenticity).
Fairy Photograph Winds Up In South Africa
In 1918 Frances wrote to her friend Johanna Parvin in South Africa and enclosed a copy of the photograph. On the back of the photo she had written 'Elsie and I are friendly with the beck fairies. Funny, I never used to see them in Africa. It must be too hot for them there. The letter from Frances ran thus: '. . . all think the war will be over in a few days, we are going to get our flags to hang up in our bedroom. I am sending you two photos, both of me, one is me in a bathing costume in our back yard, uncle Arthur took that, while the other is me with some fairies up the beck, Elsie took that one.
Letter Accepts Fairies As Matter Of Fact Not As Something Mysterious
"Rosebud is as fat as ever and I have made her some new clothes. How are Teddy and dolly?' In her letter to Johanna, Frances was more interested in talking about the war and her dolls and the photo with the fairies was given but scant and matter of fact reporting. As if seeing fairies was to her an every day occurrence of little importance. Three years later Mrs Wright went to a folklore lecture in Bradford with a friend.
Lecture Attendance Results In Far More Exposure
This lecture included references to fairies and following the lecture in conversation with her friend mentioned the fairy pictures. They were overheard by a friend of Edward Gardner, a leading theosophist, and Edward asked to see them. Fred Barlow, a leading authority on psychic photography, commented to Gardner in June 1920 - 'I am inclined to think, in the absence of more detailed particulars, that the photograph showing the four dancing fairies is not what it is claimed to be....' and in December 1920 - 'I am returning herewith the three fairy photographs you very kindly loaned to me, and have no hesitation in announcing them as the most wonderful and interesting results I have ever seen.'
Photographs Show No Signs Of Photographic Trickery
Gardner sought a photographer who had the ability to examine the photographs fully and so it was that Harold Snelling came to his notice. He was informed that 'What Snelling doesn't know about faked photographs isn't worth knowing.' Snelling's considered judgement, in his letter to Edward Gardner of July 31 1920, was 'These two negatives are entirely genuine unfaked photographs of single exposure, open-air work, show movement in all the fairy figures, and there is no trace whatever of studio work involving card or paper models, dark backgrounds, painted figures, etc. In my opinion, they are both straight untouched pictures.'
Girls Under Intense Constant Pressure To Recant Story
Over the years Elsie stated constantly that, although the fairies were wonderful, she needed to try to forget all about them. She said that down the years she got fed up of talking about them.
Elsie and Frances remained tight-lipped until February 17, 1983 when Elsie admitted in a letter of confession (after decades of relentless pressure) that the photographs were a hoax, claiming that they had drawn the fairies, cut them out and fastened them to the ground with hatpins. So that was that!
Pressured Hoax Confession Leaves Many Unanswered Questions
Or was it? The mystery still lives on with many people still believing that the Cottingley fairies existed. Frances maintained in her last television
appearance in 1986 that 'there were fairies at Cottingley'. Elsie died in April 1988 and Frances died in July 1986. They gave us a story that has stood the test of time and has done no harm to anyone. It may be that the real hoax was 'the confession', made in the hope that they could spare their families from the press, and that somewhere in the spirit world they are both having the 'last' laugh.
Eight Troublesome Questions Which Require Answers Remain
1 - If the images were cut outs of either paper or card how were they disposed of without anyone noticing?
2 - Wouldn't Elsie's father have searched high and low for any clues?
3 - Cut outs would leave mutilated magazines or remnants from paper drawings - why were none found?
4 - Surely it would be difficult for children to make sure all traces were disposed of without anyone noticing.
5 - Pictures cut out of paper or card always show the white edge of the paper - anyone practising decoupage knows this
6 - How were the wings made transparent?7 - Why didn't the hat pins show through paper or thin card?
8 - Is it believable that all the photos were taken without any hitches? It would be almost impossible to get rid of any "mistakes" with the type of plates and film used at that time.