In July 1917, 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her 10-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths were tired of being chided by Elsie's father over their claims of seeing fairies... so they took a photograph of some to prove their existence.
The girls lived together in Cottingley, on the outskirts of Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. They often played together in the small wooded creek behind Elsie's home, and this is where they saw the fairies. On a day in July, Elsie, tired of her father's dismissive attitude to her and Frances' claims, borrowed her father's camera to take a picture. When the film was developed later in her father's dark room, Elsie's parents were in for a surprise; the picture that she had taken was of Frances... with a troop of fairies dancing in front of her.
Elsie's parents were flabbergasted; but her father wasn't convinced. So, a month later, Frances took a picture of Elsie which clearly showed her playing with a gnome.
Mr. Wright still wasn't convinced, and there the matter settled. The girls showed the pictures to their friends, but no particular interest was ever raised by them... at least, not until two years had passed.
Elsie's mother had developed an interest in things supernatural, and took the pictures to share with a Theosophist meeting in Bradford one evening. In no time at all, the pictures were the center of attention and argument. Of the people who believed the fairies were real, the most prominant and vocal was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur printed the first two pictures in Strand Magazine in 1920 to help support his argument for the existance of fairies; this article made the story a worldwide sensation.
In 1920, Sir Arthur arranged for Elsie and Frances to once again be given a camera and left on their own in the small creek. The results were three more photos of the fairies; the last to be made, for shortly after Elsie and Frances moved away from one another and stopped seeing fairies. Sir Arthur later printed these three pictures in a sequel to his earlier article, and, in 1922, he expanded the two articles into a book, The Coming of the Fairies.