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← Geoffrey Crawley, 83, Dies; Gently Deflated a Fairy Hoax

Geoffrey Crawley, 83, Dies; Gently Deflated a Fairy Hoax - Comments

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 1 by Neodarwinian

Interesting to read how these spiritualists promoted their delusions. All ages need a man like Geoffrey Crawley to pour the oil of rationality on the disturbed waters of delusion.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 03:53:57 UTC | #544009

Agrajag's Avatar Comment 2 by Agrajag

He was a not-at-all strident skeptic. ;-)

Quite an accomplished gentleman. I liked his "instant reaction" to the images, "amusement" that they could be taken seriously. The earliest part of the 20th century was a very different time; no one today could seriously think those images were real. Now, if they had appeared on a slice of toasted bread...

Sort of disappointing about Arthur Conan Doyle, though.


Mon, 08 Nov 2010 03:59:33 UTC | #544011

xmaseveeve's Avatar Comment 3 by xmaseveeve

No it's not. I love him all the more.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 04:32:55 UTC | #544020

some asshole's Avatar Comment 4 by some asshole

Fairies in a garden? Seriously? (Never heard of this before.) And people believed this nonsense? My mind is stuck in a loop thinking "Oh, how I hate people".

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 04:56:09 UTC | #544022

bigJ's Avatar Comment 5 by bigJ

Re: Comment #4. You can laugh but there are people who believe such rubbish. There was an article a couple of years ago in a "New Age" mag, the sort that you find in racks in health food stores, written by a woman who firmly believed in fairies. She averred that the moles that had once ruined her garden had moved next door because she had asked the fairies to move them. There's nowt as queer as folk!

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 05:24:27 UTC | #544025

Axeman33's Avatar Comment 6 by Axeman33

I took a picture at a cemetery in an old abandoned colonial village called Bara Hack in my home state of Connecticut. There is an anomaly in it that I've shown to a few people that without hesitation, called it a wood nymph. The picture was taken a few years ago at night with a digital camera. I believe it's just pareidolia but there are those that are positive it’s essentially, a fairy. I guess if you want to see fairies, you will.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 06:13:37 UTC | #544032

Haymaker's Avatar Comment 7 by Haymaker

I suppose it is not unlike the "Chaplin time traveller" thing that seems to be taking the internet by storm at the moment. Some automatically believe in what they see not in what things actually are.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 06:38:58 UTC | #544034

Ania's Avatar Comment 8 by Ania

what's funny is I'm no photography expert, but those fairies look seriously two dimensional. Like they're not even remotely photoshopped, nor blended in with the reality that is the rest of the photograph. When you narrow it down, what are the chances that they're real fairies vs. paper cut-outs? yet alot of people seemed to think they were actual fairies. face palm

This is still the mentality we're dealing with today; it's only transferred to other ideas.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 07:02:51 UTC | #544038

Flapjack's Avatar Comment 9 by Flapjack

In all seriousness one deluded fundie attempted to convince me that Noah's ark was a true story some while back by providing photographic evidence from "...when it actually happened". Yep, that would be the prototype 2000 BC Box Brownie with the silver nitrate-coated granite tablet and the little woodpecker which etches the image 'Flintstones' style. It couldn't possibly be a still from a Cecil B De Mille epic.

I always liked this version of the Cottington story though (courtesy of Brian Froud and Terry Jones). Lady Cottington would wait in the garden with her scrapbook open and then wait for fairies to land on it... then slam it shut like a beartrap, thus preserving them for posterity -


Mon, 08 Nov 2010 07:20:49 UTC | #544040

glenister_m's Avatar Comment 10 by glenister_m

RE: Comment 8 by Ania

"what's funny is I'm no photography expert, but those fairies look seriously two dimensional."

I agree, but you are used to the latest CGI effects in movies, and can probably tell when something is computer-generated versus "real". Back then, photography was more of a novelty, and a b/w movie of a train approaching would scare the audience into thinking a real train was heading straight for them. If you look back at old sci-fi movies/tv shows, the "ground-breaking effects" look obvious/silly. Even the digital dinosaurs in the original 'Jurassic Park' look "obviously CGI" to us now. So they could (and obviously did) fool those inexperienced with photography, or needing to believe.

I had a similar experience when I tried to teach some critical thinking to one of my science classes, by showing them that awful FOX special "Did we land on the moon?", and tried to get them to counter the points made in it. Having had a bit more experience with photography than they had, it seemed obvious to me why some moon photos were missing (parts of) the crosshairs, and the lack of stars in the sky. However it was a lot harder for them to figure out why those features wouldn't appear.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 07:22:10 UTC | #544041

Letsbereasonable's Avatar Comment 11 by Letsbereasonable

To me the child's focal point is not on the group of fairies. This is, even in today's ultra-clever computer-generated cinematography, the fatal telling point.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 08:43:45 UTC | #544057

ev-love's Avatar Comment 12 by ev-love

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies”

“Every time a child says ‘I don’t believe in fairies’ there is a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead”

Once every year I really believed these things and clapped my hands as loudly as I could – just as once every year I believed in baby Jesus amid the cows and the asses. On the whole I liked the first story better.


Mon, 08 Nov 2010 08:53:42 UTC | #544062

Jason72's Avatar Comment 13 by Jason72

Comment 12 by ev-love :

just as once every year I believed in baby Jesus amid the cows and the asses.

Well not sure about the cows but there are still asses that believe in Jesus...

I thank you, yes I'm here all week!!!!

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 09:09:03 UTC | #544065

sandman67's Avatar Comment 14 by sandman67

I just find it brain beggaringly daft that nobody took a look at the photos and thought that they were

a) 2 dimensional cardboard cutouts

b) 3 dimensional model fairies

I mean WTF???? Anyone with half a brain and a spoonful of cynicism would surely have been able to duplicate the effect.

Just goes to show how daft people can be.... cue the entry of Ken "Flintstones" Ham, Ray "Bananaman" Comfort et al...

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 09:22:07 UTC | #544066

TheRationalizer's Avatar Comment 15 by TheRationalizer

It's bizarre to think anyone fell for this. Not only are the fairies obviously flat because they lack the correct shading for the scene, but the ones which are flying don't have any motion blur on their wings.


Mon, 08 Nov 2010 09:57:43 UTC | #544074

ev-love's Avatar Comment 16 by ev-love

Conan Doyle’s book is still available ‘at all good bookshops’.

Reading him nowadays, he sounds like the newly credulous AN Wilson – disavowing his best work for the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his Gods.


Mon, 08 Nov 2010 10:13:44 UTC | #544077

kscally's Avatar Comment 17 by kscally

Surely it's a great pity this fairy thing didn't get properly off the ground (no pun intended)? We could have charity status for the fairy cult believers and special schools to indoctrinate children in fairy lore. Regular fairy services would attract dell-goers into the healthy bracing environment of the English countryside. You wouldn't be laughing now.

What moral code do the fairies use? Where is the Book of Oberon? Another exciting opportunity missed.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 10:37:42 UTC | #544082

The Plc's Avatar Comment 18 by The Plc

"It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this." - Bertrand Russell.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 12:17:22 UTC | #544106

MarkMyers's Avatar Comment 19 by MarkMyers

Darn them, for challenging my belief in fairies, even if they did it respectfully!

Even Mr. Crawley admits, “At least Elsie gave us a myth which has never harmed anyone.”

I really liked fairies. I wanted to believe. I was trying to believe. Now it is just that much harder for me to believe what I want!

I am not happy about this!

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 12:25:05 UTC | #544109

nickthelight's Avatar Comment 20 by nickthelight

Even with a brief examination of the photo one can see the fairies are paper cut outs. The waterfall in the background is blurred due to the exposure time required to get a decent image, yet the fairies, also clearly moving are crisp.

I am surprised it took a 'photographic expert' all that time and effort!!

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 13:32:33 UTC | #544124

Letsbereasonable's Avatar Comment 21 by Letsbereasonable

Comment 16 by ev-love :

Conan Doyle’s book is still available ‘at all good bookshops’. Reading him nowadays, he sounds like the newly credulous AN Wilson – disavowing his best work for the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his Gods.

Do you mean the A N Wilson? I'm about halfway through After the Victorians. Ought I to be squinting slightly or something?

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 15:11:20 UTC | #544161

bluebird's Avatar Comment 22 by bluebird

Fascinating backstory, I only knew these photos in passing as "those faux fairy pics".
" continued to attract believers. Much of this belief might be attributed to the context of the times...World War One."

I certainly admire the dubunking of this hoax, yet, I can understand how people devastated by WWI gravitated to seances, etc., to relieve the emotional pain.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 16:44:59 UTC | #544194

godsbelow's Avatar Comment 23 by godsbelow

I have a friend who doesn't believe in god, but claims, in all seriousness, to believe in fairies (as well as tarot, chakras, crystal balls, astrology and all that other 'New Age' rubbish).

Her's isn't a case of cognitive dissonance, however: she's happy to dismiss the existance of a god, specifically the Christian god, because she doesn't care for Biblical morality. In contrast, New Age idiocy lets her revel in the irrational and the ridiculous without making her feel guilty for doing things Christianity disapproves of.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 16:55:58 UTC | #544198

ev-love's Avatar Comment 24 by ev-love

Letsbereasonable asks

Do you mean THE A N Wilson? I'm about halfway through "After the Victorians". Ought I to be squinting slightly or something?

I’m afraid so. He now writes stuff like this:

“Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity”

Apparently he’s not only decided he was wrong all along, he’s also swapped good writing for cheap dailymailery.


Mon, 08 Nov 2010 18:19:35 UTC | #544233

Letsbereasonable's Avatar Comment 25 by Letsbereasonable

Comment 24 by ev-love


I wish I hadn't found out about Conan Doyle too.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 18:30:25 UTC | #544238

dac74's Avatar Comment 26 by dac74

Conan Doyle: "that'll be fairies at the bottom of the garden, then."

I remember seeing this on 'Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers' in the 1980s. Anyone remember that programme? I think the late Geoffrey Crawley was on it as well. Good on those two girls who had a laugh at everyone for 70 years. P. T. Barnum's axiom never had a clearer exemplification.


A. N. Wilson also wrote a couple of decent books on Jesus and Paul. These were written, I think, in his sceptic years, and before he re-found the old-time religion.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 19:25:53 UTC | #544258

ev-love's Avatar Comment 27 by ev-love

Comment 26 by dac74


It's ev-love by the way. (The other sounds either like a divorcee or a laxative.)

More than a couple. I would have classed him as one of the greatest biographers of the last twenty years - on subjects as diverse as Tolstoy and CS Lewis (and you can't get much more diverse than that!)

Now he's back to talking to gods: maybe it'll be fairies next!


Mon, 08 Nov 2010 19:52:49 UTC | #544275

dac74's Avatar Comment 28 by dac74

ev-love (apologies for the misspelling)

I remember his biography on Milton was pretty good as well. Depressing that he's gone down the Dail Mail road.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 20:23:07 UTC | #544287

scottishgeologist's Avatar Comment 29 by scottishgeologist

Very sorry to hear of the death of Geoffrey Crawley - I wasnt aware of his Cottingley Fairies debunking, but I was aware that he invented Acutol, the famous B+W film developer.

I used to do a lot of B+W photography in the pre-digital age (which isnt actually that long ago...)

Many photographers will have worked with that wonderful combination of FP4, Acutol and a Patterson's System 4 developing tank. Digital just doesnt have that "romance" if that is the right word!

Thank you Geoffrey Crawley for many happy darkrrom days/nights!

:-) SG

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 21:36:23 UTC | #544316

xmaseveeve's Avatar Comment 30 by xmaseveeve

You all leave Conan Doyle alone. Remember he had just lost his beloved son in the Great War, which, after about three years, must have seemed like the end of the world. It was also the end of empire, and it's significant that this fairy appearance occurred in an English country garden.

The photos, to many who hoped they were real, were, in an industrial age, a technological means of evoking the golden age, and capture that rural nostalgia expressed in the traumatised poetry of the time, the 'sad shires' and the 'forever England' language of Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas (the best) etc. Elizabeth the First was 'The Fairy Queen'.

No, seances had been popular since Victorian times, and had built up a geat deal of 'evidence', such as photographs of ectoplasm, and the fascinating 'correspondences'. Conan Doyle was probably the greatest analyst of evidence. He also was a spiritualist. Of course he was going to investigate.

It's also crucial that the girls were trusted because they were children, in a world of evil where people wanted the innocence now irrecoverable after experience.

We are seeing things too much from a present-day perspective. Astounding, 'impossible' things were happening in science and aviation, etc. Yes, the images look dummy to us.

But fairies are supernatural beings who may have ensured they are always perfectly photogenic. I would. I personally think they were put there by 'Elephant in the Room' guy's time-travelling aliens, on their way home from the Resurresction. There's a difference between Jesus and fairies. Er, I hope the fairies don't enslave pixies or sprites. Peace and smiles.

Mon, 08 Nov 2010 22:12:46 UTC | #544335