In 1920 a series of photographs of fairies captured the attention of the world. They had been taken by two young girls, namely cousins Frances Griffith and Elsie Wright, while playing in the garden of Elsie's Cottingley village home in England. These photographs have now, for the first time ever been brought to life, by My Colorful Past.

Frances and the fairies July 1917 / Image source / colored by My Colorful Past

In July 1917 the pair asked to borrow the camera of Elsie's father, telling him they wanted to take a photo of the fairies they had been playing with all morning. Elsie's father laughingly agreed and showed them how to use the camera. An hour later the girls returned, declaring their project a success. And when Mr. Wright developed the plate that evening, he could see that there did indeed appear to be a fairy posing with Frances in the photo. However, he dismissed the girls' explanation, assuming the picture was some kind of trick. He asked Elsie why there appeared to be "bits of paper" in the photo.

Frances and the leaping fairy August 1920 / Image source / colored by My Colorful Past

However, Elsie's mother, Polly Wright, had a stronger belief in the supernatural, and was more intrigued by the photos. In 1919 she attended a lecture on spiritualism and following it, she showed the photos to the speaker, asking him if they "might be true after all." The speaker brought the photos to the attention of Edward Gardner, a leader of the Theosophical movement, who in turn asked a photographer, Harold Snelling, to examine them. Snelling declared the photos were "genuine unfaked photographs of single exposure, open-air work, show movement in all the fairy figures, and there is no trace whatever of studio work involving card or paper models, dark backgrounds or painted figures"

Despite skepticism, the photos continued to attract believers. Much of this belief might be attributed to the context of the times. By the end of World War One the English were emotionally bruised and battered by four years of unrelenting bloodshed. They seemed to be in need of something that would reaffirm their belief in goodness and innocence. They found this reaffirmation in the fairy photographs of Frances and Elsie.

Elsie and the gnome September 1917 / Image source / colored by My Colorful Past

Photographic experts examined the pictures and declared them genuine. Spiritualists promoted them as proof of the existence of supernatural creatures, and despite criticism by skeptics, the pictures became among the most widely recognized photos in the world. It was only decades later, in the late 1970s, that the photos were definitively debunked.

It was not until 1978 when a skeptic pointed out that the fairies in the pictures were very similar to figures in a children's book called Princess Mary's Gift Book, which had been published in 1915 shortly before the girls took the photographs. You can see these original cutouts in the image below. Note the side by side comparisons.

Image source

Subsequently, in 1981, Elsie Wright confessed to Joe Cooper, who interviewed her for The Unexplained magazine, that the fairies were, in fact, paper cutouts. She explained that she had sketched the fairies using Princess Mary's Gift Book as inspiration. She had then made paper cutouts from these sketches, which she held in place with hatpins.

Fairy offering a posy to Elsie August 1920 / Image source / colored by My Colorful Past