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Do you believe in fairies?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, did. In fact, he went to his grave believing in fairies, the poor deluded old codger. And all because of two little girls from around here in West Yorkshire who were trying to stay out of trouble.

In 1917, cousins, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, found themselves in disgrace. The girls had been out playing near a small beck near Frances’s home in Cottingley, Bradford.

They’d been warned not to get dirty.

The girls duly returned home damp and muddy. In an attempt to deflect trouble, they protested that they hadn’t been careless, but had in fact been pushed into the water.

By fairies.

The girls were now in even deeper trouble, with what their parents took to be barefaced cheek. So they decided to get proof. They snuck out again, this time with a camera, and slipped back to the beck. Sure enough, when the plates were developed, there were the girls – with fairies.

The photos of the ‘Beck Fairies’ caused a sensation. As news spread, photography experts pored over the images looking for tampering or trickery. They could find nothing wrong. People from all over the country flocked to Cottingley to try and see the fairies (hurray!).

Some brought empty jam-jars as fairy-traps (boo!).

But here’s the bit I like best: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed the girls’ story. (He whose detective protagonist depended on evidence, cynicism, deductive reasoning, clues, logic, thinking…) He even gave the girls a new, very expensive camera, and urged them to get some more photographs. Keen not to embarrass such a high-brow celebrity, Frances and Elsie obliged.

For years, the girls continued to be evasive about the photographs. In 1975, Elsie said, “They’re photographs of figments of our imagination.”

Decades later, Elsie and Frances finally revealed the truth: that the ‘fairies’ were simply cardboard drawings hat-pinned to branches. At the time, though, the sheer momentum of the story had forced them to keep the secret. Frances said, “Two village kids and a brilliant man like Conan Doyle – well, we could only keep quiet… I can’t understand to this day why they were taken in – they wanted to be taken in.”

The End.

PS: And yet and yet… even as old women, both Elsie and Frances insisted absolutely on this: that although the famous photos were fakes, they had, as girls playing by that little Yorkshire beck, really seen fairies.

2 Comments

  1. Nancy C Wilson says:

    I just saw the movie with my sister. I do believe in fairies, leprechauns, and above all Angels. I don’t like the way the world has gone, evil, arrogant and desensitized. Especially the children. As children we actually had imaginations and played outdoors and created adventures. Children today have no need of imaginations, or creating adventures; computers and video games have stolen their little brains and made them up for them. What a shame they could not have grown up with us in the 50’s and had a chance to be children. They will never know now.

  2. Lynne UK says:

    I disagree with the comment above.
    I’ve chatted to modern children and I still see that look of innocent wonder and imagination in their eyes that previous generations had! My 8 year old daughter watched The Spiderwick Chronicles movie and was as enchanted by the fae and fantasy creatures as much as I was at that age! Computers and video games don’t steal your brain any more than we thought TV might. Stories still enchant modern children. I was a 70s child and I know I had and have as much of an imagination as any 50s child. Children will always be children if we allow them to.
    I refuse to accept that kind of doom and gloom, as it’s unnecessary.
    I recommend The Fortean Times. It shows that the world still contains many, many mysterious, unexplained and strange phenomena.
    Hold on to your imagination and sense of wonder, it’s good for you!

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