Retraction and Editor's Reply

by Kort E Patterson

Your points are well taken. I guess I've always been the disagreeable sort nobody expects to respond to a chain letter, so I was spared any previous exposure to this urban legend. Even this time, although I printed the letter, I never got around to sending in my own business card.

I'll even admit to a bit of ulterior motive. I guess you could say I was predisposed to print the letter because it seemed a useful bit of "feel good" that would help the balance of the newsletter. But then, that's the same sort of motive that has perpetuated the myth.

According to Arthur Stein, president of the Atlanta-based Children's Wish Foundation International, Craig Shergold, the son of a waitress and truck driver living in Carshalton, England, was suffering from a brain tumor and not expected to survive. In 1989 the British media began to publicize the boy's desire to break the world record for receiving the most get-well cards, and eventually the Children's Wish organization was enlisted in the effort.

The day after the foundation was asked to assist in the appeal, a board member asked if he could fax the request to his company's offices around the nation. His employees sent it to their suppliers and customers and it spread out of control from there.

Because of the card campaign, John W. Kluge, the billionaire who is the chairman of the Metromedia Company, learned of Craig's illness and paid for him to see a neurosurgeon at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center. In March 1991, more than 90 percent of Craig's brain tumor was removed, and he is believed to be cured. The boy still lives in England with his parents.

In a latter-day version of the children's game called telephone, Craig's plight continues to be resurrected in letters delivered via mail carrier and fax machine, with facts so different from the original story, the tale is at times almost unrecognizable. The letters now ask for business cards instead of get-well cards. Depending on which letter you get, Craig's last name may be Schergold, Sherfold, or Shetfield. And the letters either switch the names of two foundations that grant wishes to seriously ill children, or name a foundation that does not exist at all. The Guinness Book of World Records has retired the category for the most get-well cards, leaving Craig's 1992 record of 33 million cards unchallenged.

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