Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A child dying of cancer in England needs your business cards to get into the Guinness World Book of Records.
Origins: An urban legend rivaled in tenacity by only the infamous
It's hard to believe that so much good will and fine intentions could wreak havoc, but they have. And they still are.
There really is a Craig Shergold, and he did have cancer. In 1989 an appeal was made on behalf of this then 9-year-old English boy afflicted with a terminal brain tumor. Young Craig wanted to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for having received the most greeting cards. By 1990,
Ah, but that was then, and this is now. Shergold's tumor was successfully removed in March 1991, and this lad (born
The child's name also gets munged on a regular basis. "Craig Shelford" and "Craig Stafford" and "Craig Sheppard" and "Greg Sherwood" are common variations, but there's a double handful of similar-sounding names out there too. With some of the names, it's difficult at first to be sure if they're Shergold mungings ("John Craig" comes immediately to mind. And yes, it is.) In those cases, a quick look at the address where the cards or slips are to be mailed will settle matters — many Shergold appeals direct mail to an address on Selby, Selsby, or Shelby Road. (The real Craig Shergold did at one time live on Shelby Road in Carshalton, England. The family has since left that address.)
One of the addresses used in the "request for cards" letter is that of the
A related "dying wish" request went out in the name of Ryan McGee of Virginia (a name sometimes munged in
Though the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America has never been involved with this appeal, it became a permanent fixture in the standard chain letter. Kind-hearted souls are invariably directed to mail business card offerings to it. Make-A-Wish has made repeated requests that "people please stop sending business cards or greeting cards to Craig Shergold" but these continue to go unheeded. It has a
Having learned its lesson about Pandora's Box and dying child appeals, Guinness World Records retired the category for the most get-well cards, leaving Craig's 1992 record of
Guinness explains its position very clearly in the FAQ on its web site, saying of Shergold record:
This record attempt has ceased. Many years ago, a boy fighting cancer started a campaign for people to send him get-well messages in order to set a record for the most items received. Not only was that boy successful in getting a mention in the 1991 edition of the Guinness World Records book, he also made a full recovery.Make-A-Wish and Guinness World Records aren't the only ones pleading for the madness end: both Craig and his parents have granted a number of interviews in an attempt to put an end to this, including an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America on
However, since then, chain mails have started up with variations on the original story, some requesting business cards or compliments slips rather than get-well messages. Please don't respond to any such requests, and if anyone asks you about it please tell them it's a hoax!
The Internet has spawned a further "dying child wants to get into the Guinness World Book of Records for collecting the most get well cards" tale, this one about girl child who has had all her limbs amputated.
Faith is a little girl with a rare form of cancer. She has had to have both arms and legs amputated. This cancer will eventually take her life. Her wish is to be in the Guiness Book of World Records for getting the most get well cards. I believe she is(The same appeal, with the girl's name correctly spelled as "Faith Hoenstine," was being circulated on the Internet in 1999.)
c/o Shriners Hospital
3229 Burnet Avenue
Once again, the plight of a real person has managed to spark a false appeal for cards. The youngster and her travails are real, but the request for cards is not, nor is the resulting deluge of mail welcome.
Faith Hoenstine, who was 15 in 2001, has been through multiple amputations and was treated at the Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati. (She has had both legs amputated above the knees, her left arm above the elbow, and the fingers and most of the thumb on her right hand. The Shriners' famed burn care unit effected the skin grafts necessary to ease the girl's recovery from such drastic surgeries.)
She does not have cancer: her condition was brought about by a bacterial infection. At no time did she express an interest in collecting the most get well cards or in any other fashion look to set a Guinness record. The family speculates the now widespread Internet appeal was begun by an anonymous well-wisher in their area. All they know is it didn't begin with them.
Folks at the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital have had to field a number of inquiries about this specious appeal. Faith's family has been swamped in incoming mail (about 10,000 pieces a week in late 2001, down from a
A decade after the original Shergold appeal was broadcast, another real request for cards has come to light. Four-year-old Paige Lane of Cookeville, Tennessee, died of cancer on
Barbara "sympathy cards" Mikkelson
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