The Cottingley Fairies

The Cottingley Fairies appear in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England. In 1917, when the first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16 years old and Frances was 10. One showed Frances resting by a waterfall while a clutch of tiny winged fairies cavorted in front of her. Another showed Elsie smiling down at a prancing gnome-like creature. The pictures came to the attention of writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine.

Conan Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs, and declared that they were authentic. The photographs attracted the attention of everyone, from the Theosophical Society to the national newspapers, provoking great public controversy. Public reaction was mixed; some accepted that the images were genuine, but others believed they had been faked.

Interest in the Cottingley Fairies gradually declined after 1921. Both girls grew up, married and lived abroad for a time. Yet the photographs continued to hold the public imagination; in 1966 a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper traced Elsie, who had by then returned to the UK. Elsie left open the possibility that she believed she had photographed her thoughts, and the media once again became interested in the story.

In 1978, CSICOP ran the fairy photos through an image enhancer and announced that the results showed strings from which the ‘fairies’ were suspended. Elsie laughed at their findings, later revealing that she and Frances had used hatpins to fix their fairies to the branches of bushes and trees. Frances, however, continued to insist that the fifth and final photograph was genuine.

Fairies are sometimes associated with strange lights appearing in the night. Steve K. relates this story of “frolicking fairies” at Paranormal Confessions:

“After my buddies on a camping trip had turned in for the night, one friend and I stayed up talking for awhile. Late in the night, after my friend had gone to sleep, I was looking out the screen when I noticed a strange blue light flitting through the woods. I continued to look at this light and soon it was joined by other blue lights. This lasted for some 10 minutes and the lights were playfully chasing each other. I know it sounds crazy, but I swear I saw little outlines of people in those lights. Then I moved and accidentally scrapped my sleeping bags zipper against the tent and the lights flew away blazingly fast. Back home, I read a book on fairies and after flipping through it, I think it was a troupe of fairies that I saw in the woods that night.”

Iceland also has its elves who are said to be very protective of their habitations. Those who attempt to disturb them are in for trouble. One story is told of the construction of a new harbor at Akureyri in 1962. Repeated attempts to blast away rocks continually failed. Equipment malfunctioned and workers were regularly being injured or falling ill. Then a man named Olafur Baldursson claimed that the reason for the trouble was that the site of the blast was the home of some “little people.” He told the city authorities that he would work out a deal with the little people. When he came back and reported that the little folks were satisfied, the work proceeded with no problems. Icelanders – citizens of one of the most literate nations in the world – take their elves quite seriously. Even today, Iceland’s most well-known “elf-spotter,” Erla Stefansdottur, has helped Reykjavik’s planning department and tourist authorities create maps that chart the haunts of hidden folk. The public roads authority quite often routes roads around hallowed boulders and other spots believed to be inhabited by the elves.