In 1917, Elsie Wright, 16, and her cousin Frances Griffith, 10, borrowed a camera belonging to Elsie’s father and took two pictures of what the girls claimed were fairies in Cottingley Beck, England. When Mr. Wright saw fairies in the pictures, he considered them fake and banned Elsie from using the camera again. Her mother, Polly, however was convinced of their authenticity and publicized the photos. Initially, the images were authenticated by some of the leading photography experts of the time although Kodak was less convinced, arguing that there were many ways to fake images like these.
Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories and a believer in spiritualism, saw the photos, was convinced that they were genuine and wrote about them in The Strand in 1920. The article created a media storm and the girls took three more pictures showing fairies dancing and enjoying a sun bath.
It was only in 1978 that a researcher spotted that the fairies were identical to drawings in Princess Mary’s Gift Book, a children’s book published in 1917. Three years later the girls, then in their late seventies, admitted that they had staged four of the five images using paper cut-outs and hatpins. Frances continued to claim that the fifth image (below) was genuine; however, they insisted that they really had seen fairies.