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Winged UFONAUTS? By Robert Sheaffer

Some of the most remarkable photographs of all time were taken near a small village in the English countryside, beginning in the summer of 1917. In the Cottingley Glen, in Yorkshire, in the pastoral splendour of the unspoiled English countryside, two young girls took a camera outdoors with them one afternoon. They returned with a photograph showing creatures the likes of which no camera had ever before recorded. A few weeks later, a similar photograph was obtained, and three years later, a second series of photographs was taken. These photographs have been submitted to the most careful expert scrutiny and have never been shown to be hoaxes. The winged creatures in the photographs are said to be fairies.

The first photograph, dating from July, 1917, bears the perhaps misleading title of "Frances and the Fairies". Five winged creatures are seen in the photo (one is almost obscured by two others). They appear to be dancing about in gay abandon, some of them seemingly so light as to be almost suspended in air, as UFO occupants are often reported to be. The second photograph, taken in September, has come to be known as "Elsie and the Gnome". It depicts a creature which has been described as "the quaintest goblin imaginable,V a winged creature with a pointed hat, wearing a ruffled lace collar, carrying what appears to be a double-piped musical instrument. Surely this is not how we would expect interstellar visitors to appear! But there may be good reason for this deception, as we shall see in a moment.

If the only evidence we had for the authenticity of the Cottingley photographs was the testimony of the girls themselves, one might be justified in presuming the photos to be a hoax. After all, the sceptics keep reminding us how easy it is to fabricate hoax UFO photographs, and perhaps these closed-minded naysayers do have a valid point. But the Cottingley photographs have been exhaustively investigated, and pronounced to be authentic, by one of the most learned and respected men of his day; none other than the celebrated Sr Arthur Conan Doyle.

Everyone is familiar with Doyle's fascinating stories about Sherlock Holmes, skilful detective and master of scientific logic. But not as well known today is Doyle's real-life role as a scientific investigator of the paranormal, and especially his pioneering efforts in the authentication of the Cottingley photographs. Serious UFO researchers and organisations of the present day, who follow in the footsteps of the illustrious Conan Doyle, owe him an unacknowledged debt of gratitude.

The creator of Sherlock Holmes has brought the investigative skills and sharpness of judgement of that famous detective to bear upon these photographs, and he has found no reason to suspect a hoax. Doyle carefully considered every possible explanation - "being by nature of a somewhat sceptical turn," he informs us - and found the photographs so convincing that he wrote book to present the evidence for fairies to a sceptical world. Well do those of us in the UFO field understand the resistance of the fossilised scientific establishment to any fresh, new ideas such as fairies or winged UFO occupants!

Doyle became convinced of the authenticity of the Cottingley photographs for the following reasons:
*The girls who took the photographs were incapable of concocting a sophisticated hoax. The only thing they knew about cameras was how to click the shutter! Many of today's most famous UFO photographs have been pronounced authentic for this same reason, so the argument must be valid. Besides, young children (the girls were ten and 13), innocent and kind, are quite incapable of deception, as every scientific UFO investigator is well aware!

*A number of highly experienced photographic experts have studied the photos and declare them to bear absolutely no signs of retouching or trickery! Mr. H. Snelling, a commercial photographer of many years' experience, who was thoroughly familiar with the techniques of trick photography, stated "there is no trace whatever of studio work …they are both straight untouched pictures." Mr. Snelling declared himself willing to stake his reputation that the photographs had not been faked!

*The photos were also taken to an office of the Kodak Corporation in England, where they were carefully scrutinised by several expert photographers. While the Kodak experts tended to be excessively cautious, they were unable to find any evidence of trickery in the Cottingley photographs. They indicated that a skilled photographer might be able to duplicate these photos, if he had sophisticated equipment. But since these girls did not, and would not have known how to use it even if they did, the photographs of the winged creatures mistakenly called "fairies" must be accepted as authentic.

There follows here in the article many reasons why the author considers the "fairies" to be UFO's:

As if further proof of the authenticity of the Cottingley photographs were required, we can briefly note that many other individuals throughout England and Scotland and elsewhere reported seeing the same types of fairy-like creatures at this time. Multiple independent witnesses cannot all suffer the same delusion! If we begin to even suspect that this might happen, we might as well throw out every UFO sighting on record.

Mr. Geoffrey Hodson, a leading Theosophist writer with Geller-like powers of clairvoyance, accompanied Frances and Elsie into the Cottingley Glen, to look for the "fairies". All three of them saw dozens of little people engaged in many different activities. Surely three sane people cannot all share the same hallucination!

Further sightings soon poured in, from West Sussex, the Isle of Man, from Ireland, several from New Zealand, from Canada and the United States as well. All of them were remarkably consistent in describing tiny winged creatures very much like the ones photographed at Cottingley. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set up, in essence, a "clearing house" for scientific fairy investigations. He did not have a "hot-line" for responsible individuals to phone in their sightings, because such advanced telephone technology did not yet exist. He had to rely on the mail to accumulate reports of fairy sightings, and of course no computers were then available to enable Doyle to compile a computerised catalogue of reliably witnessed close encounters.

Summarising the many highly reliable sightings of winged fairies, which continued to pour in from around the globe, Doyle wrote in 1921:
"It will be clear that there was a good deal of evidence which cannot be brushed aside as to the existence of these little creatures before the discovery of the photographs. These various witnesses have nothing to gain by their testimony, and it is not tainted by mercenary considerations ….One or two were more or less ingenious practical jokes, but from the others I have selected some which appear to be altogether reliable."

Even 50 years ago, the hoaxers were getting their laughs! But a wise and learned man like Conan Doyle was too sophisticated to be taken in by them. Just like respected UFO investigators of today, who follow in his footsteps, Doyle carefully separated the signal from the noise. What was left was a hard-core residue of highly reliable eyewitness reports of creatures that were described as winged fairies.

The challenge of the Cottingley photographs is clear. We cannot reject them out of hand, due to prejudice or ignorance, for they have been exhaustively studied by qualified experts, and have been found to be authentic. Multiple independent witnesses, throughout the British Isles and indeed around the world, confirm that tiny, winged creatures, dressed exactly like fairies, have unquestionably been sighted. We cannot reject a wave of sightings as well-documented as this unless we are willing to repudiate every last UFO sighting on record.

The Cottingley photographs must be considered one of the great unsolved mysteries facing the UFO analyst. Where do these creatures come from? What do they want? Why did they disguise themselves as fairies? Here is a real challenge to the truly scientific UFO investigator!

The Skeptic (Official UFO Magazine) October 1977