You can see the Cottingley Fairies in five photographs made of them between 1917 and 1920. Made by two cousins aged 9 and 16, the photographs gained a lot of attention in the following years.
Public opinion was mixed: some, including Arthur Conan Doyle, believed that the fairies were real, while others thought they were fake.
During World War One, Frances Griffiths, aged nine, left South Africa and moved with her relatives to Cottingley, near Bradford in England, while her father was fighting in the war.
One day, while playing with her 16-year-old cousin Elsie Wright, the girls asked Elsie’s father to lend them his camera so that they can take photos of the fairies they’ve been playing with.
Elsie’s father, amused by the children’s request, gave them the camera without hesitation. In the evening, when he was developing the photographs, there were fairies in some of the photos.
However, Mr. Wright didn’t believe they were real and joked that the girls had pieces of paper on their photographs. But Mrs.
Wright, a stronger believer in the supernatural, showed the pictures to a speaker while at a lecture on spiritualism in 1919.
The photographs gained attention from more and more people and were endorsed by a photographer, Harold Snelling.
He said that they were “genuine unfaked photographs of single exposure, open-air work.
That 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.”
Being passionate about spiritualism, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was deeply affected by the photographs and defended them as genuine when they were accused of being fake.
He even bought the girls a camera so that they could take more photos of their “friends.” Three more photographs followed in 1920 and public opinion was still divided.
The media attention died down after a few years, but the story wasn’t forgotten and the truth was never definitively revealed. Anyone could believe what they wanted to.
In an interview in 1966, Elsie said that she might have photographed her thoughts, but later she suggested that the photos are fake.
However, Frances never admitted to it, and in an interview in the early 1980s, she said: “It was a wet Saturday afternoon and we were just mooching about with our cameras and Elsie had nothing prepared.
I saw these fairies building up in the grasses and just aimed the camera and took a photograph.” Even Frances’ daughter was convinced in the genuine nature of the photographs.
There is no law that can forbid people from believing in fairies. So whether the photographs are genuine or fake, whether fairies exist or not, is up to whatever one wants to believe.