By Dr. Abner Mality

It was a beautiful summer's evening in the remote and rural country surrounding Barron, Wisconsin when young Harry Anderson had the strange encounter he was to remember the rest of his life. The year was 1919 and 13 year old Harry was walking home along a lonely country road...the full moon hung high in the sky and a more pleasant night would have been hard to imagine. As Harry trudged up the road, he saw something coming towards him.

Illuminated in the moonlight was a troop of tiny, bald men marching single file one after another. Almost paralyzed by the strangeness of what he was seeing, Anderson stepped to the side of the road and let the little men pass. There were 20 of them, all bald with pale white skin and wearing something like German liederhosen. They wore no shirts, just leather suspenders holding up their pants. They had crinkled, intense faces and seemed to be mumbling some sort of gibberish. Harry got the feeling that the mumbling was more like a kind of chant than any communication between the weird men. The boy was so stupified by what he witnessed, he made no attempt to communicate with the little men and hurried on his way home without looking back. Harry did not tell anyone of the incident for decades, but said it remained one of the most vivid memories of his life.

Young Harry Anderson had just had an encounter with the "Fair Folk", better known to us as fairies and also called the fae. It is one of the few American encounters with the legendary little people of Europe that is on record. The thoughts of beings from legend and children's stories being seen in the modern world seems ridiculous, yet sightings of such entities are still made. Many of the old fairy sightings of past centuries might now be called UFO encounters...and much of what we call UFO sightings today have a lot in common with fairy encounters.

The entire scope of the fairy phenomena is way too broad for the Good Doctor to cover here, so we'll look at some specific incidents and also give a brief dissertation on the little people. Don't worry, I won't be talking about interior decorators or male flight attendants.

The actual fairies of old folklore are quite different than the colorful, kid-friendly sprites that flitter around modern day cartoons. The term "fairy" covers a staggeringly large assortment of magical beings, both female and male, some as small as dust motes and others large as the tallest tree. Many take the form of "little people", usually wrinkled and old, but some can be grotesquely misshapen. Some are described as timelessly beautiful in their appearance. Although the Fair Folk can be kind and helpful on occasion, they are much more often tricky and cruel in their interactions with humanity. They live in a hidden world seldom seen by man and those who spy them in their natural habitat are likely to be enchanted. To accept food or drink from a fairy is to join their world forever. The magical beings were also notorious for stealing human babies and leaving "changelings" in their place.

These are all nice "fairy tales" but could there be such beings? Until recent times, rural European folk absolutely believed in their existence. One modern country where belief in fairies runs high is Iceland...ironically, one of the best educated and most literate countries in the world. The fairies there are known as "huldrefolk" and polls indicate that 80% of the population believes in their existence. Major highway and construction projects have been redesigned and rerouted so as not to "intrude" on lands suspected to be huldrefolk habitat.

Iceland is inhabited almost exclusively by descendants of the Vikings, who strongly believed the land was inhabited by all manner of mystical beings, so perhaps it is not such a surprise that belief in fairies runs so strong there. But what about Barron, Wisconsin, where Harry Anderson had his encounter? Or the "Tar Heel" state of North Carolina, where Shirley Ann McCrimmon had an extraordinary run-in with the tiniest of the "Little People"?

The year was 1976 and Shirley, aged 20 at the time, was walking in the countryside in the hour when dawn was just starting to break. She was amazed to see a man no more than two feet tall, with wrinkled brown skin, emerging from the bushes. Dressed in rustic clothes, the little man was taken by surprise and shone a blinding light in Shirley's face. The girl screamed, which set the local dogs to barking. The gnome quickly vanished into a nearby cornfield. He was never found, but a pair of tiny bootprints were left in the damp Earth next to the cornfield.

That was not the only sighting in the area.  A young boy with the lyrical name of Tonnlie Barefoot had seen a little man "the size of a Coke Bottle" , dressed in blue and wearing a "German" hat,  Tonnlie caught this tiny fellow by surprise and once more the being ran into a cornfield. Tonnlie's parents at first thought the boy just had an overactive imagination, but when they examined the ground where the little man had appeared, they found what looked like bootprints...two and a quarter inches long and one inch wide.

The Cherokee who lived in North Carolina had many legends about the Tsundige'wi...the tiny ones. This is as good a place as any to mention the tales of fairies, gnomes and small folk are not confined to European tradition specifically, but can be found in every inhabited place. American Indians, Chinese, Pacific Islanders, Africans and even Australian aborigines all have tales of small people living in a mystical world.

Do fairies keep up with the times? An outrageous report from Wollaton Park, England, suggests that the little people  have entered the automotive age.  In September, 1979, a group of 20 children, all ten years of age, saw a large group of 60 gnome-like beings emerge from a thick clump of bushes...driving tiny red-and-white cars shaped like Volkswagens! There were 30 cars, each with two little men, and they all zoomed around in patterns where they narrowly missed each other. Each of the gnomes were described the same way...old men with crinkly faces, long white beards, red vests and green pants. Each child was rigorously questioned concerning their story, but each of the 20 stuck to the same story and their accounts seemed to match very closely. There was real fear amongst the kids, as the fairy drivers were described as looking very intense, if not downright mean.
No tire tracks or other sign of the "gnome-mobiles" were found. The whole case has been chalked up to mass hallucination and hysteria, yet the area where the event took place was known for fairy sightings since ancient times.

Certainly hoaxes pertaining to fairies are not unknown. Indeed, the most famous fairy incident of all, the story of "The Cottingley Fairies", was revealed to be a hoax concocted by two young English girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths. In 1917, young Elsie claimed that she took pictures of winged little fairies cavorting with Frances in the woods near Cottingley. The resulting pictures look resoundingly fake to viewers today and many who saw them in 1917 were highly skeptical of the pictures. But many reputable people believed the girls, including no less a personage than Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was known to be a believer in the paranormal and steadfastly believed the pictures to be real.

The photos could not be totally proven to be false and for 57 years the controversy continued until a researcher named Fred Gettings solved the mystery in 1977. He found an old book called Princess Mary's Gift Book that has pictures of fairies exactly matching the ones in the photos. The girls had simply cut them out and arranged them in front of Frances for the pictures. IN 1983, Frances, now an elderly pensioner, confessed to the hoax, but she also said the girls were moved to do it because they had seen REAL fairies in the Cottingley Woods.

Fairies are secretive and generally try to avoid contact with humans, but there have been numerous cases where they have spoken to "Big People". One of the most notorious of these cases took place in 1938, in County Limerick, Ireland...a location where belief in fairies was widespread. A young boy named John Keely was walking up a country lane and when he arrived at a crossroads, he noticed a tiny man two feet tall wearing red clothes standing next to him. A surprised John asked the fairy where he had come from and the little man answered "I'm from the mountains and it's all equal to you what my business is."  The fairy remained in the crossroads while John continued on. Looking back, he saw the being had disappeared.

John told some of his friends to wait behind the hedges the next day when he walked past the crossroads again. This they did, and were astonished to see not one but two little men playing jumprope. They appeared identical to the man John saw the day before except one wore a pure white cape. The two did not appear to mind John watching them play and they chanted in an unknown tongue. But they gradually became aware that others were watching and took off running into the countryside. The chase was one! John and the other boys followed the fairies for a long way before losing them in a marsh. They all noticed the strange fact that the fairy clothes never became dirty even though they ran through dirty ditches. The story was a sensation in Ireland at the time and the boys never swerved from their story.

It is interesting to note the similarity between this case and the sighting in Barron, Wisconsin. Two young boys the same age stumbling across fairy activity. In fact, many fairy sightings have been made by children, which allows many people to discount them. But perhaps these otherworldly entities feel safer around children, who are more trusting and accepting of the strange.

Is there any truth at all to fairy sightings? At first look, it seems completely absurd and in fact, with little physical evidence and no photographs, these cases remain nothing but hearsay. In modern times, just about anybody who says they have seen fairies is opening themselves up to ridicule and suspicion of being mentally ill.

There are several theories that have been offered for the existence of fairies. One of the most popular is that they are a kind of "racial memory" of little people who once lived alongside humans in the prehistoric past. It's known that in ancient Britain, Poland and even the South Sea Islands, there were races of small anthropoids...dwarves, gnomes or perhaps fairies? They may have co-existed with man for longer than we know, perhaps even lasting into the last several thousand years. They no longer physically exist, but they have been embedded in our folklore and memories. Or perhaps they are more advanced than we are and have methods of staying out of the crude influence of "Big People".

Some also believe that fairies are extradimensional entities living in a world parallel to ours but invisible. Their world may intersect with ours at certain times or they may have the ability to move to and from their world to ours. Certainly European fairy lore speaks of them existing in "fairyland", where time flows differently. As stated briefly above, many have noticed the similarity between tales of fairy abduction and UFO alien abduction. Is it the same phenomenon just seen through different eyes?

These are questions unlikely to be answered soon. I find it rather comforting to think these magical creatures may live in lonely places, far away from the craziness of modern society, in harmony with nature. The next time you see that ring of toadstools in your yard, keep an eye on it, especially during nights of the full moon. You may never know what you will see...

This is Dr. Abner Mality, turning out the lights...