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 9, Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs, and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. Public reaction was mixed, some accepted the images as genuine, interest in the Cottingley Fairies gradually declined after 1921. Both girls married and lived abroad for a time after they grew up, 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, the photographs and two of the cameras used are on display in the National Media Museum in Bradford, England. The two girls often played together beside the beck at the bottom of the garden, much to their mothers annoyance, because they came back with wet feet. Frances and Elsie said they went to the beck to see the fairies, and to prove it, Elsie borrowed her fathers camera. The girls returned about 30 minutes later, triumphant, Elsies father, Arthur, was a keen amateur photographer, and had set up his own darkroom. The picture on the plate he developed showed Frances behind a bush in the foreground. Knowing his daughters artistic ability, and that she had spent some time working in a photographers studio, two months later the girls borrowed his camera again, and this time returned with a photograph of Elsie sitting on the lawn holding out her hand to a 1-foot-tall gnome. Exasperated by what he believed to be nothing but a prank and his wife Polly, however, believed the photographs to be authentic. On the back she wrote It is funny, I never used to see them in Africa and it must be too hot for them there. The photographs became public in mid-1919, after Elsies mother attended a meeting of the Theosophical Society in Bradford. The lecture that evening was on life, and at the end of the meeting Polly Wright showed the two fairy photographs taken by her daughter and niece to the speaker. As a result, the photographs were displayed at the annual conference in Harrogate. There they came to the attention of a member of the society. Gardner sent the prints along with the original negatives to Harold Snelling. Snellings opinion was that the two negatives are entirely genuine, unfaked photographs, no trace whatsoever of studio work involving card or paper models
The first of the five photographs, taken by Elsie Wright in 1917, shows Frances Griffiths with the alleged fairies.
Cottingley Beck, where Frances and Elsie claimed to have seen the fairies
The second of the five photographs, showing Elsie with a winged gnome
Frances and the Leaping Fairy, the third photograph