In 1917 two cousins living in Cottingley close to Bradford, England, took pictures of fairies that seemed to prove the unbelievable. Arthur Wright, still not a believer, searched his daughter’s room and the beck, in hopes of finding something to prove that the photographs were fake. He found nothing. In 1920 Gardner went to visit the Wright family, because he believed the girls and he hoped they might be able snap more pictures. In July he again visited the Wright home with two Cameo cameras and photographic plates.
To test the girls, Gardner marked the lenses covertly. When the weather finally cleared in mid-August, Elsie and Frances took three snapshots over several days. They claimed that they needed to be alone, due to the shyness of the fairies.
The Strand published Doyle’s article with the 1917 prints in December, 1920. The magazine December issue became a instant hit, selling out almost immediately. In order to ensure the protection of Elsie’s and Frances’ identities, their names were changed to Iris and Alice.
The public had varying reactions to the shots which claimed to be proof of the supernatural events so we decided to investigate and write a little more about this. Some believed in the fairies while others spoke out against the proof. By late 1921 Elsie and Frances were no longer happy about being questioned concerning the fairies. Gardner came back yet again with cameras. This time he also brought with him a mystic named Geoffrey Hodson, who interviewed the girls.
Later, both Elsie and Frances stated that Hodson was a total fake. After 1921 interest in the fairies and the girls began to settle down. Elsie and Frances lived their lives and both married. In 1966 Elsie told a reporter that the fairies could have been all in her head. Of course, she further incurred that it was still possible that they were able to capture it on film.
In 1978 disbeliever in the supernatural, James Randi, re-examined the photographs using new technology. He stated that they were phonies, as strings could be seen in the pictures. Up until 1983 both Elsie and Frances continued be true to their stories, claiming that they had not produced false snapshots. However, they would admit that normal people do not believe in fairies.
In 1983, during an interview for a publication, The Unexplained, the girls came clean and told the truth that the prints were bogus, although as children they said they did see fairies. Frances passed away in 1986; Elsie followed in 1988. Memorabilia of the fairies sold in 1998 for the equivalent of $34,975 in US dollars. Among the items sold were the five original pictures and Doyle’s book The Coming of the Fairies.
Visitors can view the photographs in the National Media Museum in Bradford, England. The cameras used to take the infamous pictures are also available for viewing by guests.
A nine-page letter of confession written by Elsie Wright is included in the museum’s collection.
The story of the two girls and their escapades with fairies was the foundation for the 1997 movie Fairy Tale: A True Story.