The Strand, Christmas 1920 Issue The Strand, Christmas 1920 Issue
[contrib. DOYLE, Arthur Conan]

The Strand, Christmas 1920 Issue

London: George Newnes, 1921

8vo, [pp. 1-84 advertisements] pp. 463-580 [pp. 85-136 advertisements]. Illustrated stiff paper wrappers. Production fault creasing to spine, and some very light edgewear, but a near fine, unread copy.


It's hard to imagine Sherlock Holmes falling for it.

In 1917 two young girls, sixteen-year-old Elsie Wright and her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths, asked Elsie's father if they could borrow his camera to photograph the fairies they'd been playing with in the garden of their home in Cottingley, Yorkshire. He indulged the girls and agreed, and set in motion a controversy that would last for more than half a century. The photographs the girls took of their fairyland friends failed to convince Mr. Wright, but his wife was more credulous, and so were the spiritualist friends to whom she showed them.

Word began to spread, and by 1919 it had spread as far as Arthur Conan Doyle. A keen spiritualist -- and much too keen for the story to be true -- Doyle asked the girls to take some more photographs. Then, armed with five images, he went in search of some photographic experts who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Experts at Kodak said that they could find no evidence of fakery -- but that that didn't mean fairies existed. Doyle heard only the first part. The photographic firm Ilford confidently stated that the photographs were faked; they were dismissed as cynics. And the girls stuck to their guns: the fairies were real. Conan Doyle went all in: in the Christmas 1920 issue of The Strand, the fiction magazine where many of the adventures of his most famous character Sherlock Holmes had first appeared, he published his article Fairies Photographed: An Epoch-Making Event, illustrated with the girls' photographs. In the article he declared his belief that the photographs were authentic, and that there really were fairies at the bottom of the Cottingley garden.

The clues are there for those who want to see them. The eye-lines are off; in the photograph of Elsie with the gnome, something has happened to the image to elongate her hand; and in the same photograph, what looks very much like the head of a hat pin can be seen protruding from the gnome's belly. (Conan Doyle took this to be the creature's belly button, and proof that fairies reproduce like humans.) But through all the controversy, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths stood by their story

They stood by their story all their lives. But in 1978 James Randi, the illusionist and serial debunker of the 'paranormal', pointed out the similarity between the clothes worn by the Cottingley Fairies, and those worn by the fairies in a children's book called Princess Mary's Gift Book published three years before the photographs were taken. Finally, in 1983 and at the age of eighty-two, Elsie admitted in an interview with the magazine The Unexplained that the photographs had been faked. In the same article, Frances, now seventy-six, agreed the first four were fake.

The fifth, she said, was real.

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