“When a new baby laughs for the first time a new fairy is born, and as there are always new babies there are always new fairies.” Wendy from Peter Pan
On a walk through a meadow, with bugs buzzing in your ears and the sun setting through the trees, have you ever caught a glimpse of a face peering out from the leaves? Have you ever felt dozens of eyes upon your back, only to turn and find no one there?
Or maybe just no one you could see.
That is the allure of the fairy. It has inspired people all over the world and for many generations to tell stories of nature sprites and tiny winged creatures.
And on one hot summer day, it inspired two adolescent girls to make some mischief. Unfortunately for them, the need to believe in fairies was so strong that their mischief was taken as truth. A controversy that lasted decades was born.
In 1917, two cousins, Elsie Wright (16) and Frances Griffith (10), were in trouble for playing in the stream in their back yard. In wet and muddy dresses, the girls replied that they only went to the stream to play with the fairies. To prove it, Elsie borrowed her father’s camera and the next day they caught their new winged friends on film. Elsie’s father dismissed it as a prank, but her mother was amazed.
The girls swore the picture’s were real. Frances even sent one of the pictures to a friend in South Africa with this note on the back, “It is funny, I never used to see them in Africa. It must be too hot for them there.”
Elsie’s mother was a spiritualist with the Theosophical Society. She presented the photos during a talk about fairy life and they caused quite a stir. The pictures went on display at the society’s annual conference.
The pictures were sent on to a photography expert who declared them genuine. Even the Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was drawn into the plot. He published the first article about them in The Strand in December 1920.
Two of the pictures were posted in a publication that sold out in days to controversy and speculation.
The prank would haunt the girls for their entire lives. Magazines and newspapers periodically resurrecting the pictures and asking for interviews. It wasn’t until the early nineteen nineties that the girls confessed that the pictures were made from cutout images and held up with hat pins. Though Frances continued to maintain that the fifth picture of their series was real and that they had, in fact, seen and played with fairies.
Do you believe?
Below is a video of a British family exploring their neighbor's yard where their children play. They caught something unusual on film.
Is it real? Or do we just want it to be?
"Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead." Peter Pan