When Elsie's father developed the photographic plate, it revealed an image of four fairies, playing and dancing around ten year old Frances. When the photograph's reached the public, the "Cottingley Fairies", as they are known, became some of the most famous photo's of their time.
Fairies in the Garden
Francis and Elsie stated to the adults of the house that the reason they spent so much time at the stream, often to return soaking wet, was to see the fairies. Understandably the adults thought these the musings and imagination of children, so paid them no heed.
The two girls decided to prove to the adults that the fairies existed. Elsie borrowed her fathers camera, and set off down to the stream in order to catch the fairies on photo. The two girls returned and Elsie's father, Arthur, set off to his amateur darkroom to develop the photographic plate.
The resulting picture showed Frances, seated semi-obscured by a bush, with four fairies dancing and playing in front of her. Arthur automatically brushed the photo’s off as an innocent prank and not a lot more was said.
Several months, later the girls had captured a gnome on film. This time Elsie was the subject of the photo, and she was seen sitting on the lawn, holding out her hand to the foot tall little person. Arthur concluded the girls had tampered with his camera, and refused to lend it to them again, and that was that!
The Photo's are Real?
As to be expected, there were some criticisms of the girls and the photos. Edward Gardner ,the head of the national Theosophical Society sent the prints and the original plate to a photography expert to be analysed. The expert concluded the images were real and genuine, with no apparent tampering with the plates.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, spiritualist and author of Sherlock Holmes, heard of the photographs after he had been commissioned to write an article on fairies for the Christmas edition of 'The Strand Magazine'. He contacted Arthur Wright for permission to use the photos in the publication, to which Arthur agreed. Upon receiving some enhanced prints, Doyle set out for a second expert opinion and contacted Kodak.
Kodak too stated that there was no evidence of tampering, but refused to submit a certificate of authenticity, as these photos did not show conclusive proof of being photographs of fairies.
Great Hopes for the Future
The fairies would not appear if others were watching, so the girls were left alone to see what they could capture. The girls returned to the house, having taken several shots, two which had recorded the fairies once again. Gardner wrote to Doyle straight away (Doyle was on a lecture tour of Australia at the time) to which Doyle replied:
'My heart was gladdened when out here in far Australia I had your note and the three wonderful pictures which are confirmatory of our published results. When our fairies are admitted other psychic phenomena will find a more ready acceptance. We have had continued messages at séances for some time that a visible sign was coming through.'
The photo’s appeared in the December 1920 issue of 'The Strand Magazine', to mixed reactions. Many claimed the photo’s to be obvious fakes, and that the two girls had pulled Doyles leg.
Soon there was a flurry of fairy sightings all across the world. People sent in their experiences to Conan Doyle, who wrote a book in 1922 titled 'The coming of the Fairies'. It was at this time that much of Sir Arthur Conan Doyles credibility and integrity was questioned.
The world wide sensation of the Cottingley Fairies stayed for a while, but was soon relegated to books on spirituality and the paranormal.
It was not until 1983 that the two cousins admitted to faking the photographs. The images had come from 'Princess Mary's gift Book', where they were cut out and supported by hatpins for the photos. The cut-outs had been thrown into the stream when they were no longer needed.
Frances passed away in 1986, followed by Elsie in 1988. Did the girls know at the time how much of a sensation they would become?
We can let Frances own words written in 1983 answer that for us:
"I hated those photographs from the age of 16 when Mr Gardner presented me with a bunch of flowers and wanted me to sit on the platform at a Theosophical Society meeting with him. I realised what I was in for if I did not keep myself hidden."
However they both maintained that there were fairies living at the bottom of that garden whether they were a manifestation or not of their imagination and belief is another story....