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2. The Cottingley Fairies 1917

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The Cottingley Fairies are a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins living in Cottingley, near Bradford, England, depicting the two in various activities with supposed fairies. Elsie was the daughter of Arthur Wright, one of the earliest qualified electrical engineers. She borrowed her father’s quarter plate camera and took photos in the beck behind the family house. When Mr. Wright, upon developing the plates, saw fairies in the pictures, he considered them fake. After the taking of the second picture, he banned Elsie from using the camera again. Her mother, Polly, however was convinced of their authenticity.

In the summer of 1919, the matter became public and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) wrote an article for a leading magazine claiming that they were authentic. Not everyone was taken in by the fraud, as this statement from a leading Doctor at the time attests: “On the evidence I have no hesitation in saying that these photographs could have been `faked’. I criticise the attitude of those who declared there is something supernatural in the circumstances attending to the taking of these pictures because, as a medical man, I believe that the inculcation of such absurd ideas into the minds of children will result in later life in manifestations and nervous disorder and mental disturbances…” For fifty years the girls avoided publicity and the hoax continued to be believed by many. In late 1981 and mid 1982 respectively, Frances Way (née Griffiths) and Elsie Hill (née Wright), who took the photographs admitted that the first four pictures were fakes. Speaking of the first photograph in particular, Frances has said: “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 being taken.” Both of the girls claimed, right up to their deaths, that the fifth photo was, in fact, authentic.

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