In July of 1917, teenage cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths took two photographs – the first of Frances with a group of Fairies, the second of Elsie with a Gnome – in the garden of Elsie’s home in England. Three years later, after various experts had incorrectly confirmed the photographs’ authenticity, Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle heard of their existence and immediately contacted the girls and their families in order to discover more. Almost instantly Doyle, a spiritualist, believed the girls’ story and proceeded to write a feature about the phenomenon for Strand Magazine. The photos of the ‘Cottingley Fairies‘ were quickly world renowned and the centre of much debate. It wasn’t until 1981 – 64 years later – that Elsie confessed to having made the Fairies using paper and cardboard.
Below are two of the letters written by Doyle; the first to Elsie, the second to her father. Others can be seen here.
Dear Miss Elsie Wright
I have seen the wonderful pictures of the fairies which you and your cousin Frances have taken, and I have not been so interested for a long time. I will send you tomorrow one of my little books for I am sure you are not too old to enjoy adventures. I am going to Australia soon, but I only wish before I go that I could get to Bradford and have half an hours chat with you, for I should like to hear all about it. With best wishes
Arthur Conan Doyle
Mr Gardner told me about it.
Dear Mr. Wright
I have seen the very interesting photos which your little girl took. They are certainly amazing. I was writing a little article for the Strand upon the evidence for the existence of fairies, so that I was very much interested. I should naturally like to use the photos, along with other material, in my article but would not of course do so without your knowledge and permission. It would be in the Xmas number. I suggest
1. That no name be mentioned, so that neither you nor your daughter be annoyed in any way.
2. That the use be reserved for the Strand only until Xmas. After that it reverts of course to you.
3. That either £5 be paid to you by the Strand for the temporary use, or that if you don’t care to take money, you be put on the free list of the magazine for five years.
The articles appear in America in connection with the Strand publication. I would, if you agree, try to get you another £5 from that side. If this is all agreeable to you I or my friend Mr Gardner would try to run up & have half an hours chat with the girls
A Conan Doyle