Cottingley Fairies
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The First Images

Frances and the Dancing Fairies

Photograph 1: Frances and the Dancing Fairies in a much improved reproduction of the original.

Here is the first picture to be taken by the girls at Cottingley Beck and shows Frances gazing innocently into the camera as a troop of fairies dances on the branches in the foreground.

The leading photography experts of the day examined the photo and declared them to be genuine and void of trickery but Kodak laboratories were more cautious with their findings.

The photo had been received in its original form in a letter to Edward L Gardner along with the second photo in the series. However, as the images were much faded and ill defined, Gardner tasked Harold Snelling to produce some fine reprints which were made in numbers and sold in the tide of public interest.

"Then I told them to make new negatives (from the positives of the originals) and do the very best with them short of altering anything mechanically. The result was that they turned out two first class negatives which … are the same in every respect as the originals except that they are sharp cut and clear and far finer for printing purposes…"

Edward L Gardner in a letter to Fred Barlow, a photographic genius, in 1920. Gardner was refering to the time when he asked Harold Snelling to "clean up" the images.

"This original negative is asserted by expert photographers to bear not the slightest trace of combination work, retouching, or anything whatever to mark it as other than a perfectly straight single-exposure photograph, taken in the open air under natural conditions."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The photograph, whilst curious in content, was soon forgotten until the appearance of a second spritely figure in August, just one month later.

Elsie and the Gnome Fairy

Photograph 2: Elsie and the Gnome Fairy

A month after the events, the second picture in the series was taken by Frances.

Here Elsie is pictured by the oaks beyond the banks of the beck with a small gnome like figure.

The appearance of another strange figure on the Midg plates somewhat annoyed Elsie's father. He knew the girls were playing a joke but when he questioned them they adamantly denied any trickery and insisted that these were the fairy folk with whom they were playing. As a result, Arthur Wright told the girls they could no longer use his camera.

Despite their most rigorous attempts to find evidence of the prank, perhaps drawings or cutouts, nothing was found. Nothing in the dustbins, nothing by the beck, nothing up the embankment, nothing at all. Confused, the parents gave up the search and the fairy talk soon died away.

In The Beginning

Theosophy, Spiritualism and Other Beliefs