When someone tells you they have fairies for sale, alarm bells should go off in your head, but turns out even just having a photo of a fake fairy could be worth a lot of money. Consider this: Photographs of the infamous Cottingley Fairies are expected to fetch £70,000 ($91,249.20) at auction.
For those unfamiliar with the case, this might seem completely off topic, but let’s talk about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Image Via Daily Mail
Sir Doyle was the writer who created Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, but perhaps he should be best remembered for being a proponent of Spiritualism in his later years.
Come 1920, when Sir Doyle was sixty-one, something magical happened. Prairie Ghosts recalls how during that year “Conan Doyle received a letter from a Spiritualist friend, Felicia Scatcherd, who informed of some photographs which proved the existence of fairies in Yorkshire. Conan Doyle asked his friend Edward Gardner to go down and investigate and Gardner soon found himself in the possession of several photos which showed very small female figures with transparent wings”.
It seemed that in 1917 sixteen-year-old Elsie Wright and nine-year-old Frances Griffiths claimed that had seen fairies in their backyard creak. In an effort to convince their elders, the two cousins borrowed Elsie’s father’s camera, a Midg quarter-plate, and went out to the back.
Image Via Eye of the Psychic
When they returned, they had their proof. Keenly interested, Sir Doyle, The Gazette writes, “met the girls and asked them to take more photographs of the fairies, giving them two cameras in 1920”. The end result was a total of five photographs of fairies, although none of the photos were taken with Sir. Doyle watching.
Christmas of that year, Sir Doyle went on to publish an article about the fairies in the Strand Magazine. Although many others came forwards saying they had seen fairies as well, Sir Doyle found that none of them to be genuine. The Cottingley photographs, however, seemed real in his eyes. He even wrote in his 1922 book The Coming of the Fairies that the pictures “represent either the most elaborate and ingenious hoax ever played upon the public, or else they constitute an event in human history which may in the future appear to have been epoch-making in its character.”
Image Via Messy Nessy Chic
It’s ridiculous looking at these photos now to think that anyone would think these are real, but you have to remember that back then there was no television, the radio was barely twenty-five years old, and film making was in its infancy. Heck, World War One was not only still widely known as the Great War but it had only ended two years earlier.
Atlas Obscura noted that, “It wasn’t until the 1980s that an elderly Wright finally fessed up,” revealing that she and her cousin had “cut the creatures out of paper and staked them to the ground with little hat pins to create the illusion of floating. Hints of this sleight-of-hand were there, for those looking closely. The gnome’s belly, for instance, had a tiny hole where the pin poked through. Conan Doyle, for one, proposed that the little hole was a navel.”
Image Via Reddit
Needless to say, the photos are fake.
But that hasn’t stopped our fascination with the photographs and with the hundred year anniversary coming up, these photographs are back in our public consciousness. They are to auctioned off and are expected to fetch £70,000 ($91,249.20). Christine Lynch, Frances Wright’s daughter, told the Guardian that :
“It’s time they went to a museum where someone else can see them and enjoy them. They haven’t been on view at all so it’s nice for someone else to see them.”
Unfortunately, the eighty-eight-year-old also filled in how this story was never meant to go as far as it did. See, the girls were in trouble for going to the creak so much, so “Elsie had the idea of faking the photographs of the fairies and it was only meant to be to get her out of trouble.”
Image Via Independent.ie
See? They were going to the creak and getting dirty because they had to go and see the fairies. A cute excuse for getting some mud on you, but once the photographs were made they went the 1920s equivalent of ‘viral’.
“Elsie swore her to secrecy, and she said it ruined her life because she was looking over her shoulder the whole time,” the eighty-eight-year-old revealed.
Image Via Anomalies
Turns out this mystery has a truth that even the creator of Sherlock Holmes couldn’t fathoms: An innocent excuse turned into a heart-wrenching web of lies.
And now the photographs, revealed to be fakes, will be given to the public so they may do what they wish. They will be available at Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, on April 11th.
Featured Image Via Quartz