The Cottingley fairies were the talk of the country. The photographs were examined by experts and pronounced genuine, and when the girls were given another camera and asked to reproduce their results, out popped another three images. Of course, the photographs had to be taken while the girls were alone – as they said, the fairies would not show themselves otherwise.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories and himself a committed spiritualist, was convinced. He wrote in The Strand magazine, “The recognition of [fairies’] existence will jolt the material twentieth century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life.”
Eventually, public interest in the story died down but for decades Elsie and Frances denied having faked the photographs. In 1966, Elsie suggested in an interview that she might have imagined the fairies and had somehow managed to photograph her thoughts.
The truth finally came out in 1983. Elsie and Frances confessed to having taken the photographs using cardboard cut outs of the “fairies” secured by hat pins. The reason they had stuck to their story for so long? They were too embarrassed to do anything else. As Elsie said, “Two village kids and a brilliant man like Conan Doyle – well, we could only keep quiet.”
It seems, though, that the fascination with fairies is an enduring one. In 2007, prop maker Dan Baines posted pictures online of what he claimed to be the corpse of a dead fairy. It was a lucrative plan: he netted nearly £300 for the tiny “creature” on eBay. Although Baines later admitted it was an April Fool’s joke, some still believe the item to have been genuine.