When The Cottingley Fairies Went Viral
Two years after Elsie Wright and her cousin Frances Griffith photographed “fairies” in Cottingley, things took off. The pictures went viral after Frances’ mother showed them at a meeting of the Theosophical Society – a New Age spiritualist group. The photos were clearly questionable, and experts who saw them pronounced them crude cardboard cutouts. However, belief in the existence of fairies dovetailed with some religious tenets of the Theosophical Society. So the society’s members – who included prominent British figures – began to spread the photos and vouch for their authenticity.
In 1920, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became aware of the photos’ existence. He was initially skeptical, and went so far as to ask Eastman Kodak for their opinion. However, before he had received a reply from the camera and film manufacturer, Doyle decided that the photos were real. Before long, Sherlock Holmes’s creator had not only vouched for the photos’ authenticity, but went on to become a huge advocate for the existence of fairies in real life. It was the start of an awkward journey.