“Fairies Photographed – An Epoch-Making Event” The Cottingley Fairies and the Fairy Graves. Did Elsie and Frances fool Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Which was the ‘real’ photograph. A magical story for all.
Fairies have been part of folklore and myth in many parts of the world. Rarely have they been the sweet, ethereal creatures portrayed in children’s books and Disney films. As well as your traditional winged Tinkerbell types you have gnomes, brownies, gremlins, goblins, elves, hobgoblins, imps, leprechauns, the fay or fey, nymphs, sprites, bogies, pixies, sylphs and nisses, and lots more local names throughout the world. But however widespread the tales of these legendary creatures, it wasn’t until a century or so ago that there was apparently real and reliable evidence of their existence. This is the story of the Cottingley Fairies.
An article in the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine by no less a figure than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle announced ‘Fairies Photographed — An Epoch-Making Event’. It was illustrated by two incredible photographs taken by cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths. In 1917, when these first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16 years old and Frances was 9. They lived in Cottingley, near Bradford.
Surely the renowned creator of Sherlock Holmes could not have been taken in by two young girls. The original glass-plate negatives had been examined by experts who apparently found no evidence of tampering or double exposure. Doyle, of course, was a keen advocate of spiritualism and saw the photographs as clear evidence of psychic phenomena. The final paragraph of his article included these words:
“The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life. Having discovered this, the world will not find it so difficult to accept that spiritual message supported by physical facts which has already been put before it.”
That issue of The Strand sold out within a few days of publication, although public reaction was mixed. Were the images genuine or fake? Back in Cottingley Elsie and Frances continued to visit the beck near their home where they’d first met the fairies and eventually they were able to take three more photographs. In 1921 Conan Doyle published a second article in The Strand, supported by the latest photographs. These also appeared in his book The Coming of the Fairies, published the following year.
As part of this package, in addition to a set of 7×5 in. copies of Frances and Elsie’s original photographs, you have a reproduction of Doyle’s article. We’ve included it for two reasons: so that you become familiar with more of the background story; and as an additional prop which you can use to enhance your routine.
I originally put this together to accompany the beautifully sculptured ‘fairy skeletons’, two examples of which are pictured in the photograph above (not supplied with the basic package described here). They are individually hand made and each one is unique, however, so they will only ever be available in very limited quantities at conventions and to callers at our Sheffield studio. Several people asked if they can buy the package without the ‘dead fairy’, so you can. (You could always add one later when, or if, we can get hold of a few more.)