Friday, November 11, 2016

Fairies in Your Garden?

"She didn't claim to see the fairies or hear their music, but she did find the fairy rings of dark grass, sprinkled with toadstool left by their dancing feet. "  Having completed a small watercolour and ink sketch this week led me to thinking about  "fairies in the garden". I remembered a story of an amazing hoax  by two young girls in 1917.  Have you heard of the Cottingley Fairies? Much has been written about the five photographs produced by two cousins, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths in Yorkshire, England. I would love to show  here all  five photos but there is some controversy about the copyright of the photos and I would not like to be in any sort of dispute about the use of them. However, they are reproduced on these sites - click on the word link to see the photos  :
1. Wikipedia 
2. Museum of Hoaxes
3. The Telegraph - Five Famous Hoaxes  

Elsie and Frances took  photos with a quarter plate camera in their garden - images of the girls with fairies. Although Elsie's father dismissed the photos as trick photographic fakes,  Mrs Wright took  the first two photos (1917)  to have them examined  by the leader of the Theosophical movement who in turn had them checked by a photographic expert  who declared the two photos as "genuine unfaked 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,"From  

Having checked out the photos on the various websites, I  find it hard to believe that the photos were ever considered genuine. Today, admittedly with far better technology, it seems obvious that the fairies have been added to the scene. Other sceptics pointed out the paper like figures, their hairstyles were Parisian, and the fact that in most photos the girl was not looking at the fairy figures.   In spite of doubts raised by Kodak and Ilford companies and other assorted experts, the images were endorsed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a believer in spiritualism and convinced that the girls produced photographic proof of the existence of "supernatural" beings. He encouraged the girls to take more photos, providing them with more sophisticated cameras, and  so the three additional photos were produced and brought to public attention in 1920. 

It wasn't until 1968, when James Randi exposed the undeniable similarities between the fairies seen in the photos and the illustrations in a book titles "Princess Mary's Gift Book ", published in 1915, that the story began to unravel. This led to  Elsie's confession in 1981 that she had sketched the fairies using illustrations from the book, made paper cut outs and  placed them  in the garden using hat pins. (Ironically, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had seem what appeared to be a hat pin in the middle of the gnome creature in photo 2, and explained it by believing that to be the gnome's belly button. He concluded that this proved that fairies and other supernatural beings gave birth just like humans.)   Both girls maintained that while they had staged photos 1-4, but Frances maintained that photo no 5 was genuine. Both Elsie and Frances claimed to have taken the last photo and while this appeared to be a discrepancy in their stories, photographic experts say that photo 5 is possibly an "unintended double exposure", so  it may be true  that each of the girls did take the photo. The photo itself appears to be as much of a fake as the others, although the creatures seem to have a more ethereal look. 
Frances died in 1986 and Elsie in 1988, seemingly still amazed that people believed that the photos were genuine. Frances  continued to maintain that photo 5 was not a fake and interestingly her daughter appeared on Antiques Roadshow in 2009, also strong in her belief that photo 5 was genuine. Fake or not, a camera and the original photos of this little deception were valued by the Roadshow expert at 25,000 -30,000 pounds! The following video is such a wonderful interview with Frances's daughter and granddaughter - obviously believers that there are fairies in their garden! 

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