In another episode of Amanda Gets Distracted by the Internet…
I was on Tumblr and I found this post about the Cottingley Fairies that really interested me. I can’t find the post anymore, it was from a while ago actually, so I Google searched the fairies for the purpose of this post, found the Wikipedia page on them, and then proceeded to get sucked into the abyss of Wikipedia for an hour or two before I remembered that I was actually supposed to be doing something.
So before I get distracted (again), I want to write about these fairies and the girls that captured them in pictures, and then I’ll write about why I’m writing about them.
Basically there were these two young cousins in the early 1900s named Frances (age 10) and Elsie (age 13) who borrowed Elsie’s father’s camera to take photographs of fairies. When Elsie’s father developed the pictures, there were, in fact, fairies in them. He kind of thought it was some sort of trick the girls were playing on him and thought nothing of it, just letting Frances and Elsie have their fun.
Elsie’s mom, on the other hand, believed in fairies and the supernatural, so she took the photos to Edward Gardner who was a prominent leader of Theosophy (a type of Mysticism and Spiritualism, from what I understand) at the time, who showed them to his friend Harold Snelling, who was a practiced photographer, who declared that the photos were legitimate.
They eventually got around to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who everybody knows as the guy who wrote the Sherlock Holmes detective series. He was super excited about them, and advocated for their legitimacy too, and wrote articles and gave speeches declaring that they were real. Since he was so well known, the photographs became pretty popular, as did Spiritualism.
In 1981, 60 years later, Elsie was interviewed in a magazine about these photographs, which people were making a big hullabaloo about, and she said that the photographs weren’t real— that she and Frances had just posed a certain way and then pasted cut outs from a children’s book onto the photographs.
What I found to be so interesting about this whole ordeal (when I first discovered it on Tumblr and after researching it a little bit online) is how easily everyone just believed that these pictures were real. I think that it’s because most of the people who were analyzing the pictures, like Elsie’s mother and Edward Gardner and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, were all Spiritualists, and believed in stuff like fairies anyway. So when something that was so aligned with their beliefs showed up, they looked for reasons for the photographs to be real rather than for reasons for them not to be.
For basically 60 years people believed in these photographs because no one wanted to think that they weren’t real.
When I first read about the Cottingley fairies, I saw the story of these two imaginative young girls in big picture terms. The reason I’m writing about them and their pictures is because I feel like what happened to them holds true for a lot of things. If people think a certain way or believe in something, then any type of evidence that supports what they think, legitimate or not, well researched or not, realistic or not, they’ll hold on to. Because being right/feeling right is always better than being wrong.
Although the Cottingley fairies are a rather benign example, I think that the point that I’m trying to make is that you have to look at all sides of something, pushing aside your own beliefs and holds and be unbiased, before you determine its validity and worth.