Cottingley Fairies

The Fascinating Cottingley Fairies Hoax of 1917

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A century ago, a purely innocent lie managed to fool the whole world.

Fairies have always fascinated people. It could be because of their appearance, the special powers they have, or solely the idea of having a creature that flies and holds a magical wand, but either way, these mythical beings are always present in folklore all around the world. But at this point, everybody—or maybe except for the kids—knows that they are from the books and will stay there; that they are, no matter how much we want them to be real, are mere products of a human being’s imagination.

But more than a century ago, two girls managed to make the world believe that they saw and played with a group fairies.

The Magical Hoax That Is the Cottingley Fairies

Cousins 10-year-old Frances Griffiths and 13-year-old Elsie Wright often played by the beck located just at the bottom of their garden at their home in Cottingley, West Yorkshire. The girls would often tell their family they came back from spending some time with the fairies, a story barely anyone in the house believed.

In July 1917, Elsie borrowed a camera from her photographer father to take a photo of the fairies they met. That day the girl returned with photographs of them playing with outworldy friends. Arthur Wright, knowing his daughter Elsie’s artistic abilities and recalling the times she worked at a photographer’s studio, dismissed the fairies as cardboard cutouts.

Months later, they took photographs again, this time with them playing with fairies that were about a foot tall. Elsie’s father still did not believe the photographs, but her mother, Polly Wright, a believer of the supernatural herself, did.

Two years later, Polly Wright attended a talk on spiritualism and decided to bring the photos with her and eventually showed it to the event’s speaker. From there, the photographs spread, even reaching Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who also believed the photos were real and included them in an article he was writing for a magazine.

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For six long decades, the story about the Cottingley fairies, as it would be more commonly known, went on and on. Finally in 1983, Frances and Elsie admitted the story of the Cottingley fairies was a hoax, confirming the fairies in the now widely known photographs were illustrations from a book.

Of the five photographs they took, the first four were confirmed to be fake, with Frances adding, “I don’t see how people could believe they’re real fairies. I could see the backs of them and the hatpins when the photo was taken.”

With the admission came the cousin’s claims that the fifth photograph was real and that they indeed saw fairies at the bottom of the garden.

It’s amazing how a simple story from young girls could spread like wildfire and be a globally known tale. But probably, we can’t really blame everyone who believed in the Cottingley fairies. When reality couldn’t be as magical as we want it to be, stories like this become our only door to a different and more ideal world.

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