CLASSIC HOAXES: Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden

Any parent who has taken care of children until they’re teenagers can attest to the numerous amount of mischief that they get involved in and the ‘fairies at bottom of the garden’ incident is shining example of this. This is a curious hoax, especially because an internationally known figure ended up making it famous…

Two cousins, sixteen year-old Elsie Wright and nine year-old Frances Griffith, loved to play at the bottom of their garden. Both girls declared that the reason they kept coming back is because of the fairies. You can just imagine how high their Mother’s eyebrows were raised due to this incredulous assertion. So to prove their claim, Elsie took her father’s camera to take a picture of the fairies. After thirty minutes, they had their proof.


Arthur Wright, Elsie’s father, was skeptical. He considered his daughter’s inclination towards the arts and the fact that Elsie was also an apprentice in a photographer’s studio. Besides, Arthur was also a dedicated photographer, although still an amateur. He declared that the fairies in the picture were cutouts made from cardboard. A couple of months later, they borrowed Arthur’s camera again and returned with another photograph. Mr. Wright got irritated and still saw everything as a prank. He rightfully refused to let them borrow his camera again. There was one believer of the hoax though: their mother, Polly Wright.

The matter would have been laid to rest if Mrs. Wright had not attended a Theosophical Society meeting in 1919 and shown the photographs to the speaker. The topic that evening was on Fairy Life. As a result , the photos were shown to the public during the annual conference of the Theosophical Society. An influential leader of the group, Edward Gardner, took special interest in the photographs.


Edward Gardner believed wholeheartedly that the photographs were real. Looking for further proof of authenticity, he had the pictures examined by an expert. Harold Snelling was the photograph specialist who evaluated the fairy pictures. He declared that the photos were real. He further went on to state that he saw no evidence of studio fix or cardboard models. He stopped short of confirming that the figures were fairies, however.

Enter famous writer and Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who contacted Elsie’s father. It was Gardner who set up a meeting between the two. Mr. Wright, although much astounded that Doyle was interested, refused any monetary offers by Doyle. His reasoning was that if the pictures were indeed real, he did not want them dirtied with money.


Mr. Wright, still wanting proof of his daughter’s hoax, went to the garden to search for evidence of some paper or cardboard. He even searched the girls’ rooms but found nothing. Gardner also put the girls to a test without their knowledge. He went to the Wrights’ home and brought with him 2 Kodak cameras. He also brought marked picture plates. If anything can prove whether the fairies were real or fake, these cameras will. After the visit, he had with him both cameras with the incriminating plates. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was overjoyed that the last 3 pictures taken were evaluated and deemed authentic.

Several years after, the cousins admitted that it was a hoax. They said that although they really had seen the fairies in the garden, the pictures were actually fakes. Elsie drew illustrations of fairies based on a popular childrens book at that time. Her father was right all along that they were cardboard cutouts. Still, a lot of people bought the story mainly because of the involvement of Arthur Conan Doyle. Which goes to show that you can’t always trust that a story is real just because a famous person has endorsed it!

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