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Modern Mysteries

Cottingley fairies photograph goes on display

By T.K. Randall
December 19, 2020 · Comment icon 15 comments

'Frances and the Fairy Ring'. Image Credit: Elsie Wright / PD
The oldest known surviving contact print of one of the original Cottingley fairies photos is now on display.
The story of the Cottingley fairies came from the unlikeliest of sources - two young cousins, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffith, from Cottingley, England.

The pair, who would often play near a stream at the bottom of Elsie's mother's garden, claimed that there were fairies living there. To prove it, Elsie one day borrowed her father's camera and the girls spent 30 minutes taking pictures of them.

The photographs, which were considered highly convincing at the time, went public in mid-1919 and quickly become famous across the country. Many believed the fairies to be real, including author and spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who included the photos in a magazine article he'd written.

The mystery of the Cottingley fairies would go on to endure for over 60 years until finally, in 1983, the two cousins admitted that the photographs had been faked using cut-out illustrations from a book.
Both however remained adamant that they had genuinely seen fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Now the very first image developed in 1917 from the original 'Frances and the Fairy Ring' negative has gone up on display at The Museum of the Weird in Austin, Texas.

"Museum of the Weird owner Steve Busti says that he acquired the historic photograph last year, when he placed the winning bid at the April 11, 2019 auction of original Cottingley Fairies artifacts, organized by Dominic Winter Auctioneers," the press release states.

"This particular contact print is also noteworthy for being reproduced in the May 1985 British Journal of Photography issue where editor Geoffrey Crawley exposed the Cottingley Fairies affair as a hoax."

Source: Museum of the Weird | Comments (15)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #6 Posted by Seti42 3 years ago
True. I had forgotten how Doyle got really into mysticism/spirituality, especially later in life. He was into seances and all that BS.
Comment icon #7 Posted by the13bats 3 years ago
Heres a bit more on that, I always loved this story and the fact its still got a bit of mystery, the girls simply could not have done that days equivalent of photoshopping the pictures so who did, their dad? Edward Gardner?  i would even have include sir Conan Doyle, At the time no one tried to profit off of them in any big way, perhaps they helped sell an extra magazine or two, Fun part is to this day some folks think they are real.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Orphalesion 3 years ago
The very article you link points out that the fairies are painted paper-cutouts kept in place by hat-pins, so I think the girls did it themselves. And the one where they appear translucent is likely a (accidental or purposeful) double-exposure.
Comment icon #9 Posted by the13bats 3 years ago
I know the girls used paper cutouts, im talking about the pictures presented, Go back to my first post in this thread,  look at the picture as it came from the girls camera then look at how it was later presented, the girls couldnt have done that level of editing, When this was in an episode of arthur c clarks mysterious world a big deal photo guy ( i cant recall his name ) in the uk said to the effect the camera didnt have that good a lense so a lot of skilled airbrushing and work when into the image he found the orginal negative which he showed they rubbed they plate with "brasso" to subdue... [More]
Comment icon #10 Posted by Abramelin 3 years ago
Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who gave us Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes, a guy using stone-cold logic, 'Spock' style. A guy who also believed in fairies. God doesn't have any mercy. We're just his most favorite lab rats.  
Comment icon #11 Posted by the13bats 3 years ago
The piece of the puzzle im missing is who and when was the editing done to the orginal picture, Geoffrey Crawley was the fellow who tracked down the orginal negative plate, he exposed it as a hoax, that was around 1980,  i also read, However, the imagine they used in Strand magazine doesnt appear to be edited, and i would have thought it would have been, How did it go from that image in that magazine to this, Oh and a great side note Alice swore until she died pix # 5 the sun bath was real faeries
Comment icon #12 Posted by Nobu 3 years ago
I think those girls were beyond their time with a pair of scissors. Incredible scissor work. I feel like this is being overlooked. 
Comment icon #13 Posted by the13bats 3 years ago
Im not 100% sold their confession was the full true story, Sure, it was paper cut outs but i really have reserves that no adults helped in any of this. Not that im selling short a 10 and 15yo im just saying i think they had help.
Comment icon #14 Posted by HollyDolly 3 years ago
I saw a movie about this ages ago. In any case, I think the fairies were cut outs. And it is possible that  they did have some help from their father maybe in the photos. After all, in that time period and earlier, there were spirit photographs. There was one of Mary Todd Lincoln in her later years, taken with supposedly the  ghost of her husband president Abraham Lincoln.Think her son Robert Lincoln  later had her either commited, or in the care of a nurse..They might not have had photo shop then, but there is nothing to say the photos couldn't have been faked. In fact the background with ... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by the13bats 3 years ago
I am not saying dad didnt help however, my research showed dad was a skeptic but mom a believer and mom was the conduit to get the picture to doyle thru gardner, then the girls were given better cameras etc, I speculate for reasons gardner was the one who had or did the editing of that first image, Then i kind of believe the girls, doyle was highly respected and back then people didnt get off making folks look ridiculous like the do today when it blew up with doyles endorsement it would have been devastatingly embarrassing for doyle to have been duded by a couple lil girls so the girls in both... [More]

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