In 1917, two young girls from the village of Cottingley in England managed to take five photographs showing themselves in the company of fairies. People went crazy over the snapshots, with a famous author among the biggest fans!
Like most children, 10-year-old Frances Griffiths and 16-year-old Elsie Wright were playful, highly creative, and a teeny bit mischievous. Sometime in mid-1917, Frances and her mother had just moved to the village of Cottingley in West Yorkshire, England. Her cousin Elsie became her constant companion since then, making the stream down the garden their favorite playtime spot. Coming home drenched from their play angered their mothers, and in their defense, the cousins simply said they were just playing with the fairies along the stream.
To prove this, Elsie borrowed her father’s Midg Quarter plate camera (and a Cameo Quarter later in 1920) to take pictures of the fairies. And the rest, as they say, was history.
With today’s standards and technology, it’s very easy to conclude that Elsie and Frances simply took pictures of each other with cut-outs of fairy illustrations from a children’s story book. At most, experts say they could have done it in double exposure fashion. Elsie’s father, an amateur photographer who had his own studio, later dismissed the photographs as a prank after developing the plates. However, many people who saw the photos, especially after they were published, were convinced that the girls had indeed posed with real fairies. Even the photographic experts and technicians weren’t certain if the photos were the real deal or faked. In an era when cameras and photos couldn’t lie, the girls could only take photos of what was real, so the fairies WERE REAL, weren’t they?
Surprisingly, one of the people who believed in the girls’ trick photographs was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the famed author of the detective Sherlock Holmes stories. Conan Doyle was a spiritualist and a big fan of the photos. He did not only use the prints for his article on fairies, but also endorsed them as genuine proof that fairies were real!
While the aging Elsie and Frances admitted that the photos were faked some sixty years after, you can’t help but be amazed—both with the girls and their prank photos. The whole fairy fiasco only goes to show the endless possibilities and magic of film!
Have you ever taken convincing prank photos using film? Share your trick photos with us on the comments section!
Photos from Museum of Hoaxes