or Elsie and Frances Fool the World – a true story
by Mary Losure
World War I brings Frances Griffith from Cape Town, South Africa to Cottingley, Yorkshire, England to live with her aunt, uncle and cousin until the Great War is over and her father returns from the front. Everything is drab and dark in England. Nothing is as her mother had told her it would be – no joy or light. Cousin Elsie, six years her senior, is kind and fun loving. There is a little happiness when she returns home from work each day and she and Frances have fun. Frances is often alone though and the place she finds most full of light is the beck: the little stream behind the cottage. It was there that Frances believes she see fairies. Each day she saw green clad men about eighteen inches tall marching through the willows. She never spoke to them, or they to her. They just became part of her days. When she told her family, she was teased. Elsie had also been teased for not being a great reader or speller. She was a wonderful artist though. Tired of the teasing, Elsie created some paper fairy cutouts, beautifully painted along with the plan to pose along the bank of the beck to photograph. She hopes the photograph will serve as proof to end the taunts and teasing.
Photography was the new technology of 1917. Taking and developing pictures on glass plates was a difficult and expensive process. Elsie did convince her father to let her use the camera. When he developed the one plate the girls had been given – sure enough the fairies emerged. Elsie’s dad is not convinced it is not a trick but he developed the plate and knows that the photograph has not been tampered with. The girls use his doubt to convince him to let them take one more photo. This one is of a gnome and while they don’t fully convince everyone in the family, the photographs do end the teasing.
A few years pass and then someone mentions these pictures to a group, the Theosophists, eager to prove the existence of fairies and nature spirits. That involved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of detective Sherlock Holmes and created more attention and publicity for the girls. Everyone wants to know the girls who see fairies; wants to see what she sees. Everyone wants to find the girls quickly because fairies are known only to reveal themselves to the young and innocent. What happens next is an incredible story of a great hoax, perpetuated by two girls who never intended to deceive the wider world. They just didn’t want to get into trouble and didn’t know what to do when the tale they had begun took on a life of its own.
This is the true story of how two girls fooled the world with their fairy photos. The book describes the girls’ personalities. This was a time of great technological changes and new strains of the environment. The books share the what is happening in Frances and Elsie’s lives at the time along with letters and direct accounts of the ordeal so readers can understand how it came to be and perhaps why some many people at the time wanted the photographs to be real. The Fairy Ring makes you wonder and think. What you have done in their shoes?