Exhibits in the Haunted
Museum are based on the work of Troy Taylor from his
book, Ghosts by Gaslight!
Click on the Cover for More About the Book!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will always be best remembered as
the creator of the cynical, deductive reasoning Sherlock Holmes but in his
later years, he became a proponent of Spiritualism. His conversion lost him
many friends, earned him much criticism and some cruel quarters even spread
that word that Conan Doyle had gone senile. The Cottingley Fairies affair
seemed to be proof of this.
Conan Doyle received a letter from a Spiritualist friend, Felicia Scatcherd,
who informed of some photographs which proved the existence of fairies in
Yorkshire. Conan Doyle asked his friend Edward Gardner to go down and
investigate and Gardner soon found himself in the possession of several photos
which showed very small female figures with transparent wings. The
photographers had been two young girls, Elsie Wright and her cousin, Frances
Griffiths. They claimed they had seen the fairies on an earlier occasion and
had gone back with a camera and photographed them. They had been taken in July
and September 1917, near the Yorkshire village of Cottingley.
The two cousins claimed to have seen the fairies around the "beck" ( a
local term for "stream") on an almost daily basis. At the time, they
claimed to have no intention of seeking fame or notoriety. Elsie had
borrowed her father's camera on a host Saturday in July 1917 to take
pictures of Frances and the beck fairies.
Elsie Wright and
Frances Griffiths in a photo taken at the "magical beck"
According to their account, Mr. Wright
developed the photos late that day, revealing anomalous white shapes that
gradually moved toward the foreground of the photographs. They looked like
sandwich papers or some sort of birds to Wright, but Elsie insisted they were
fairies. Mr. Wright took no notice of it but then a month later, Frances
photographed Elsie with what the girls claimed was a gnome. Arthur Wright
questioned the girls about it but they stuck to their story -- they simply
took photos of what they saw there. They were banned from borrowing the camera
from that point on.
Elsie in 1920
Wright was amused by the photos and to appease his wife
(who was a believer), he combed the area around the beck and searched for
signs of either of fairies or fraud. He found neither and since the photos had
a novelty value, he made a few prints of them to show the neighbors. Wright's
wife, Polly, though was a member of the Theosophical Society (founded by
Madame Helena Blavatsky), which flourished in an atmosphere of belief and
excitement about the impossible. It was at a local meeting of the society --
which incidentally was a lecture on fairies of all things -- that Polly
confided to her friends about her daughter, her niece and the photographs of
Frances in 1920
Doyle's friend, Edward L. Gardner, was a Theosophist
himself and had no trouble believing that the photographs were authentic.
Even though the photographs were extremely questionable
(and the fairies later turned out to be cut-outs from Princess Maryís Gift
Book, 1915), Gardner pronounced them genuine and obtained copies for Conan
Doyle, was wary of them at first. He began seeking other opinions, including
from Sit Oliver Lodge, who immediately pronounced them as fakes. Doyle had
other ideas about the photos though. He was not sure that they were actually
fairies but they were certainly mysterious figures. Obviously, the girls were
central to the issue -- could they be gifted mediums? He sent Gardner back up
north to meet with them and to investigate the "magical" beck. Doyle meanwhile
left for Australia on a lecture tour and left Gardner to cope with the media
storm that surrounded the revealing of the photographs. The newspapers, not
surprisingly, were not open to the possibilities of fairies and the City
News even stated that "It seems at this point that we must believe either
in the almost incredible mystery of the fairy -- or in the almost incredible
wonders of faked photographs".
Frances (taken by Elsie) in July 1917
Unknown to the newspapers and to Gardner and Doyle (at the
time), the girls had taken three more fairy photographs during the summer of
1920. One of them showed an obviously two-dimensional fairy with fashionably
bobbed hair offering a flower to Elsie and another depicted a "fairy bower" in
a tree (an ectoplasm-like cocoon) that was very exciting to Conan Doyle. The
third was of a leaping fairy that the girls claimed was captured on film
during its fifth leap.
Conan Doyle was intrigued but still bothered by the
photographs and so he asked for an opinion about them
from the Eastman Co. and from Kodak, although he
never waited for their answers before declaring them the real thing. He published an article about the fairies in the Christmas
1920 issue of the Strand Magazine and soon was deluged with
photographs from others who also claimed to have seen their own fairies. Conan
Doyle examined them all, but saw none which appeared to be as genuine as the
Cottingley photographs. He later penned a book in 1922 called The Coming of
the Fairies, which detailed the entire account of the affair.
To look at these photographs today, the modern eye can
easily see them to be fakes. In defense of Conan Doyle however, we have to
realize that first and foremost, he was a gentleman and he believed that
because he treated others with kindness and honesty, they would treat him in
the same manner. Needless to say, he was taken advantage of on many occasions.
On this occasion however, it would have never crossed his mind that the two
girls might be lying about the photographs. Even if he had doubted them, he
would have never accused them of dishonesty, for it was just not his way.
In the early 1980ís, the two women finally admitted the
photographs were a hoax. They stated that they had faked them to get back at
adults who teased them for saying they played with fairies. The joke had just
gotten out of hand when Gardner and Doyle got involved and by that time, it
was too late to back out. They promised though, that they would reveal the
truth once all of the principles in the case had passed away, especially Conan
Doyle, who they did not want to embarrass when it came out the photos were not
Strangely though, even though they eventually admitted the
photos were not real -- they did maintain that they had really seen fairies in
the beck. The photographs were staged to show their parents just what they had
seen. In fact, despite their confessions, Frances went to her grave
maintaining that one of the famous photographs was actually real. Which one?
We will never know for sure...
© Copyright 2003-
2008 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
Photo of Elsie and
the gnome, September 1917
A "fairy" offers
flowers to Elsie