Welcome. This is my blog, and you're my most coveted guest. If I seem a bit too intense, it's only because I have so much that I want to share with you, and I can see that you're eager to begin as well. So, please...make yourself at home, sip an East India cocktail (I blended the pomegranate juice myself), and sample some of my domestic and imported Arcana: useless, but fascinating information about Victoriana, Steampunk and other favoured topics; music which evokes that dark, lost Lenore sensibility; and other pleasant or, perhaps, unsettling non sequiters whispered in a darkened room. Linger long or short, leave a comment or refrain, but remember to come back soon to play a (shhhh) parlour game.
Velkommen. Dette er min blog, og du er min mest eftertragtedegæst. Hvis jeg synes en smule for intenst, det er kunfordi jeg har så meget at jeg vil dele med jer, og jeg kanse, at du er ivrig efter at begynde så godt. Så kan du ...føl dig hjemme, sip et East India cocktail (jeg blandetden granatæble juice mig selv), og prøve nogle af mine indenlandske o importerede Arcana: ubrugelig, menfascinerende oplysninger om Victoriana, Steampunkog andre begunstigede emner; musik der fremkalderdenne mørke, mistede Lenore sensibilitet, og andrebehagelige eller måske foruroligende, ikke sequitershviskede i et mørkelagt rum. Linger lang eller kort,efterlade en kommentar eller afstå, men husk at komme tilbage snart til at spille en (Shhhh) selskabsleg.
- I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
Nocturne in G Flat major
Chopin, darkness, light, sand and wind, starlight tread. Beethoven, love, fear, madness, redemption in the night. Liszt, waltzing widows, desperate bargains, pleasure's secret plight. Now, then, before, always, forever. Promises made on lonely beaches, celestial summer's perfect kiss, passions quenched in salty breezes, the lure of distant mist-draped heights. Bitter interlude. Final, private nocturne. Burned down like a candle. Doomed bleeding beauty. Fated sacrificial night.
We love all things dark and mysterious, macabre and obscure, odd and unfathomable. Nothing is too strange or bizarre for our little blog. And although we would never presume to offer definitive answers to the great questions of life, we shall do our best to enlighten, inform and delight our visitors with our whimsical potpurri of facts, anecdotes, trivia and informational outpourings. We strive not to offend, but to edify those who wish to reach beyond their comfort zone and touch the fabric of another time and place, and of distant, but genuine worlds and lives. As Victorian-themed blogs go, ours may not be the most austere, nor the most comprehensive, but we know what we like, and if our readers like it as well, then all is as it should be in this ramshackle corner of our own personal Victorian empire.
A Musical Note
A Musical Note: We feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by one or more of the following musical selections. Then again, we also feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by a glass of absinthe, a bite of lemon cake, and a foot massage (preferably by someone you know). So, to paraphrase the otherwise completely irrelevant-to-our-blog Mr. Aleister Crowley, "Do what thou wilt...but be open to Chopin."
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Sunday, March 18, 2012
SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, BELIEVER IN FAIRIES
Elsie Wright was 16 and her cousin Frances Griffiths was 10 when they unwittingly took on the creator of the world's most famous detective and, in doing so, etched out an abiding place for themselves in the annals of paranormal investigation. So, how did it happen? Well, it all seems to have begun when the two girls, who had both recently relocated from South Africa to the village of Cottingly in West Yorkshire, decided to quell their boredom by taking photographs with a camera they borrowed from Elsie's father, an amateur photographer whose passion for his hobby had led him to set up his very own darkroom. When the girls came back from their impromptu photo shoot with what they claimed were genuine images of fairies they had seen dancing next to a nearby stream, Mr. Wright agreed to develop the plates for them. Once developed, the photographs showed Frances seated next to a bush in front of which four "fairies" appeared to be dancing.
Wright immediately suspected trickery and scolded the girls for tampering with his camera and misusing his time. His wife, Polly, however, wasn't as quick to dismiss the photographs and insisted that they must be real. But Wright would have none of it and forbade the girls to ever use his camera again. By all rights, the story of the Cottingly fairies should have come to a full stop right then and there. Perhaps it would have if Frances hadn't sent one of the photographs to a friend back in Cape Town with a note on the back remarking on the fact that she found it odd that she had never seen fairies whilst living in South Africa, adding "It must be too hot for them there."
That was in 1918. A year later, in the late summer of 1919, whilst attending a lecture on "Fairy Life" hosted by The Theosophical Society in nearby Bradford, Polly Wright dug out the photographs and showed them to the speaker. The speaker was impressed enough to feature the photographs at the group's annual conference in Harrogate a few months later. The exhibition caused quite a stir among the Theosophists and shortly thereafter they found their way into the hands of photography expert Harold Snelling, who pronounced them "genuine" and insisted that they had not been tampered with in any way. Snelling stopped short of saying that the fairies were actually real. But Snelling's declaration regarding the authenticity of the photographs was enough to set the wheels of the Theosophical Society's pro-fairy campaign in motion. At the request of leading Society member Edward Gardner, Snelling produced new negatives of the Cottingly fairy photographs, from which he made prints which Gardner soon began selling at his lectures. Enter Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author, committed Spiritualist, and, apparently, a true believer in the reality of fairies.
One doesn't need to be an ardent fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories to know that the character of Holmes, which Doyle based on one of his old university instructors, Joe Bell, whose powers of deduction were legendary among Doyle and his classmates, is one of the most well known in the history of literature. In fact, "the world's only consulting detective" has been portrayed on stage and screen more often than any other fictional character, most recently in director Guy Ritchie's two film adaptations and in the BBC series "Sherlock", written and produced by "Dr. Who" scribes Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, in which the famous sleuth has been reinvented as a denizen of the 21st century.
It's probably a safe bet to say that were it not for his Holmes and his trusty sidekick, Dr. John Watson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might well be a forgotten footnote in literary history, despite the fact that Doyle grew to resent the character of Holmes, which he considered an impediment to the writing of more serious literature. In 1893, tired of being tied to the endless demand for more Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle famously attempted to "kill off" his creation by sending Holmes careening to his death from the top of The Reichenbach Falls in "The Final Problem", but public outcry prevailed and Doyle was forced to resurrect Holmes in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in 1903 and, again, in "The Adventure of the Empty House" in 1913. By the time Doyle died, felled by a heart attack at his house in Crowborough on July 7, 1930, he had penned 54 short stories and four novels featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. But that was, of course, long after his dalliance with the Cottingly fairies. Which brings us back to the great man's interest in Spiritualism.
It seems a bit odd that a man responsible for the creation of a character known for his unswayable devotion to logic would align himself with a religion based on the unprovable premise that spirits walk among us and are capable of communicating with us through the auspices of mediums and other inter-dimensional channels, such as Ouija boards and automatic writing. But, like many people who turn to spirit communication, Doyle was driven by grief. The author had become very depressed following the death of his son, Kingsley, who succumbed to pneumonia shortly before the end of World War I, a state which was compounded by the subsequent deaths of Doyle's brother, Innes, two brothers-in-law and two nephews, all of whom expired in quick succession around the same time. Morose and overwhelmed by the loss of multiple family members, Doyle attended a seance, hoping to make contact with his deceased loved ones, and was so impressed with the apparent results that he decided to join the spiritualist church, an affiliation he maintained until his death. By the time he stumbled across the photographs of "the Cottingly fairies" in the official spiritualist publication, Light in July of 1920, Doyle was well immersed in paranormal and psychical pursuits and had, as it so happened, just been commissioned by The Strand Magazine to write an article on fairies. One look at the photographs was all it took. Doyle quickly dispatched negatives of the photographs to photography experts at Kodak, who agreed that the images had not been faked, but refused to issue a certificate of authenticity based on their contention that some sort of trickery must be involved since "fairies aren't real." Another expert, this time from the photographic company, Ilford, was less diplomatic, declaring unequivocally that the pictures were fraudulent. Even Doyle's friend, the famed physicist and psychical researcher, Sir Oliver Lodge, expressed doubts about the photographs, positing that a troupe of French dancers had stood in as models for the alleged fairies. (He based his opinion on what he called "the Parisian" hairstyles sported by the "fairies.")
In the end, Doyle chose to ignore these naysayers and run with the more positive assessment of original expert Snelling. Before heading off for a lecture tour in Australia he dispatched Gardner to Cottingly with the directive to obtain more photographs of the fairies. Once there, Gardner met with Elsie, Frances and the Wright family, all of whom he found to be honest, according to an account of the visit which he included in Fairies: A Real Book of Fairies, which was published in 1945. But it wasn't until some weeks later, on August 19, that the girls got around to taking the photographs, for which purpose Gardner had provided them with two Cameo cameras and 24 secretly marked plates. Insisting to Elsie's mother that the fairies would only come to them if they were alone, the girls prevailed upon her to take tea with her sister whilst they went off to take the requested photographs. They returned a short time later with three new photographs, all of which showed images of fairies similar to the ones in the original shots.
Doyle was, by all accounts, thrilled with the results. But personal credulity aside, his subsequent book on the subject, The Coming of The Fairies, published in 1922, was met with quiet derision, many critics making a point of commenting on "the fashionable hairstyles" worn by the wee women. For their part, Elsie and Frances continued to insist that the photographs were real, with Elsie going so far as to claim that most people just didn't see fairies and that was all there was to it. As interest in the Cottingly fairies began to wane, both girls eventually married and moved abroad, leaving the world to ponder the mystery. It wasn't until a 1983 interview that the truth came out. Speaking with a reporter from Unexplained magazine, the cousins admitted that they had cut the figures out of a magazine, but only because they had seen real fairies and wanted to duplicate the images, having failed to capture the genuine article with their camera lens.
So, why didn't they come clean back in the day? Well, according to Elsie, it all came down to embarrassment. Citing their nervousness when a man of Doyle's stature became involved in the "hoax", Elsie said, "Two village kids and a brilliant man like Conan Doyle – well, we could only keep quiet." In the same interview Frances said: "I never even thought of it as being a fraud – it was just Elsie and I having a bit of fun and I can't understand to this day why they were taken in – they wanted to be taken in."
Frances died in 1986. Elsie followed her to the other side two years later. The original glass plates containing the original images of the Cottingly fairies were sold at a London auction for 6,000 pounds. Frances's daughter, Christine appeared in an episode of Antiques Roadshow broadcast on BBC One in 2009 in which she was told by antiques expert, Paul Atterbury that a photograph of the fairies and the Cameo camera given to her mother by Doyle were worth between 25,000 and 30,000 pounds.
NEXT POST: THE SCIENTIST, THE MEDIUM, AND LUSTFUL SPIRITS: THE STORY OF FLORENCE COOK AND WILLIAM CROOKS.