In case you’re not familiar with this particular bit of weird history . . .
Back in 1917 two girls in the Yorkshire village of Cottingley took two photographs that rocked Arthur Conan Doyle’s world. Doyle was deep into spiritualism at the time, and had had been gathering information for an article to support his belief in the existence of fairies.
Imagine his delight, then, to receive what he considered concrete evidence that he was right. The photos (shown below so that you too may be astounded), depicted one of the girls posing with a group of dancing fairies, and the other shaking hands with a gnome.
Doyle began a lengthy correspondence with the man who had sent him the pictures, a Theosophist named E. L. Gardner. Gardner did most of the on-site investigating of the girls, their family, the photos and the site where they were taken. Strangely, there is no indication Doyle ever attempted to meet the girls or visit the site himself.
In any case, Doyle presented the first two photos to the world with an article in The Strand magazine. Not long after, the girls were given a new camera and asked to take more pictures. They did, producing three more.
Along with the Strand article, the five photos formed the basis of The Coming of the Fairies. Doyle then added correspondence, arguments for and against the authenticity of the photos, other accounts of close encounters with nymphs, brownies, goblins, elves, gnomes and fairies, plus a good deal of pseudo-scientific nonsense speculating on the how and why of their existence. First published in 1922, the book was largely forgotten and remained out of print until rediscovered in 1997.
That Doyle truly believed such stuff is pretty clear. He’s convinced the photos and other evidence demonstrate that… “this new order of life is really established and has to be taken into serious account, just as the pygmies of Central Africa.”
One of the best lines in the book actually belongs to a skeptic. He's quoted as saying . . . “knowing children, and knowing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has legs, I decide that the [girls] have pulled one of them.”
What is not included in the book is what happened long after. In the 1980s, the girls finally admitted they had faked the first four pictures, using cardboard cutouts traced from childrens books. One girl, however, still insisted the fifth photo, supposedly depicting a fairy bower, was genuine. You be the judge.
Here are the photos in the order they were taken. Captions are those used in the book.
FRANCES AND THE FAIRIES
ELSIE AND THE GNOME
FRANCES AND THE LEAPING FAIRY
FAIRY OFFERING POSY OF HARE-BELLS TO ELSIE
FAIRIES AND THEIR SUN-BATH
For links to many more (and hopefully less strange) Forgotten Books, visit Patti Abbott's pattinase.