The Teenage Girls Who Created the Legend of the Cottingley Fairies
You might be excused if you assumed that the creator of the cynical and deductive reasoning detective, Sherlock Holmes, would have been one of those hard-to-fool skeptical types. In reality, however, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author who birthed fiction’s most famous detective, was nothing like his famous character. In his later years, Doyle became a big booster of spiritualism, and in his eagerness to credit anything that supported his beliefs, he became a gullible old fool who fell hard for a hoax perpetrated by two young girls. It began in 1917, in the English village of Cottingley. There, 9-year-old Elsie Wright and her 16-year-old cousin Frances Griffith claimed that they hung around with fairies beside a nearby stream. Their parents scoffed, so to prove their claims, the girls borrowed Elsie’s father’s camera, and came back half an hour later with “evidence”.
The Photos Spread
When Elsie’s father developed the film, he was surprised to find a picture of fairies dancing around Frances. However, he dismissed it as a prank by his daughter, who knew her way around cameras. When the girls came up with more fairy photos in subsequent months, Elsie’s father finally forbade them to borrow his camera. Two years later, the fairy photos went viral after Frances’ mother showed them at a meeting of the Theosophical Society – a New Age spiritualist-type group. The photos were clearly questionable, and experts who saw them declared that they were crude cardboard cutouts. However, the existence of fairies supported some spiritual aspects of the Theosophical Society, so its members – who included prominent British figures – began spreading the photos and vouching for their authenticity.