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Cottingley Fairies

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“When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.”

                                                                        --J.M Barrie, Peter Pan

Have you heard of the Cottingley Fairies?  It’s the name given to an incident that happened long ago in England, right after the First World War.  Two girls, Frances Griffiths, and her cousin Elsie Wright, took pictures of fairies they claimed to have been playing with every day in the glen by a brook near their property.  The camera they barrowed belonged to Mr. Griffiths.  Once the photos were developed, the parents put them away for a year or so before they resurfaced, believing the girls had somehow played a joke on them all.  So the story goes.

Eventually these photos came to the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the ever shrewd detective, Sherlock Holmes.  Ironic?  I should say so.

He was so taken in by the photos of the fairies, he wrote a book entitled The Coming of the Fairies, about how serendipitously they came into his possession.  Of course, we cannot blame him too much for his enthusiasm, considering he was heavily into Spiritualism at the time and was willing to cling to any evidence that supported his belief.  Also, he had two experts review the original photos and their negatives.  The conclusion of both experts was that the photographs were authentic.



Harold Snelling, a professional photographer who was considered an expert in the field said, “'These two negatives are entirely genuine un-faked 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.” And we can agree that the photographs were not doctored and they were not taken in a studio.  It seems it never occurred to the ‘experts’ that the girls, by themselves or with an adult, could have created these cutouts.  The drawings were that good.

But, we are not here to debate the authenticity of the images taken that day.  No, today I ask that we put aside all talk of hoaxes and focus on the artwork these girls created; not only the fairies themselves, but also the entire composition of the photographs.  Look closely at the fairy figures and notice how well they are drawn.  The compositions contain everything it means to believe in fairies and such creatures of the Nether.  They are fantastic pictures to look at.

It makes one wonder if they had help.  Could these young girls have been that creative by themselves?  The parents vehemently denied any knowledge of what the girls had done.  In fact, they claimed they’d searched the entire house from top to bottom along with the rest of the property, and the glen the girls originally had taken the pictures in, for any evidence of a hoax. Specifically they looked for the remains of the paper cutouts.


It wasn’t until 1978 that it was discovered Elsie and Frances had pulled the images from a 1917 book titled Princess Mary’s Gift Book, which contained a compilation of stories by such famed authors as J.M. Barrie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, and Rudyard Kipling to name a few.  It’s a beautiful book.


Why were people so easily fooled?  We must remember the times, to answer this question.  England had just emerged from the First World War, bloodied and dejected, they craved to believe in something magical, something—good.  Believing in fairies and a world beyond our own was exactly what they needed. 



And so my friends, I ask, are we not in times where we all need something magical and good to believe in?

View these photographs through the eyes of a child with innocence and magic.  Forget the voice in your head telling you to be reasonable, and that fairies do not exist.  Quiet that voice.

Although the girls, as adults, stated in an interview that they had created the fairies with paper and paint, Frances, the youngest by seven years, maintained that not all the photographs were faked, and that surely, there were fairies in that glen.

Find the goodness—I dare you.

C. Silverthorn

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