The Craig Sherford Myth

The following NYT article is offered as a retraction to the Sherford letter
mistakenly printed in the April/May 1996 issue of POC.

                              The New York Times

               September 1, 1993, Wednesday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 1; Column 2; National Desk
HEADLINE: A Dream Comes True and Comes True . . .

   There once was a boy named Craig, who in the midst of his fight against
cancer asked strangers to grant a simple request: Send get-well cards, 
lots of them, enough to lift a sick child's spirits and break a world record.

   Craig Shergold got his wish. Ordinary people and heads of state alike
responded to the 7-year-old British boy's plea, sending more than 16 million
greeting cards in a year's time and breaking the standing record within 
months. Now, four years later, Craig Shergold, has his record and his health.

   Doctors removed most of a cancerous brain tumor in 1991 and say the disease
has not returned.

   But Craig's request lives on through a flurry of chain letters making the
rounds of offices in Manhattan and other cities around the country. And as
thousands of cards continue to pour in, those who first publicized the boy's
appeal have replaced the words "thank you" with two others.

   Enough already.
   'No Way to Stop It'

   "We've got a 10,000-square-foot warehouse that is stacked to the ceiling
with mail that still hasn't been opened," said Arthur Stein, president of the
Atlanta-based Children's Wish Foundation International, which began the 
initial card campaign in 1989 and asked for it to cease at least two 
years ago. "There's no way to stop it. Everyone keeps saying quit, and 
people ignore the pleas."

   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, or Sherfold. 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.

   To complicate matters further, many of the cards are mailed to an Atlanta
address that does not exist and are eventually re-routed to the Children's 
Wish Foundation headquarters. Some of the envelopes simply say "Wish 
Foundation," with no address or ZIP code. And Mr. Stein said his staff has 
put on display one envelope that cryptically read "To The Boy Who Is Sick 
In The Hospital, In Arizona, Or Colorado . . . "

   One thing remains the same: While the drive has been going on for 
years, the boy in the appeal has not aged -- he is still 7 and still 
terminally ill.

   The Children's Wish Foundation uses a donated warehouse and staff of 40
volunteers to handle the nearly 300,000 cards sent in every week, Mr. Stein
said. The Phoenix-based Make-a-Wish Foundation of America, which never dealt
with the Shergold boy or his request, has established a telephone line to 
tell the public the current card appeal is not legitimate, nor are they 

   And there has been a concerted effort to spread the word that cards --
business or otherwise -- are no longer wanted. Newspaper writers from 
Dallas to Manhattan have written articles and columns stating that the 
boy broke the record long ago. His mother has appealed through the BBC 
and other media outlets that no more cards be sent. Even Ann Landers, in 
a column printed last year, begged the public to stop.

   In fact, 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
No Longer Counting

    But no amount of publicity has been strong enough to stem the torrent of
faxes and phone calls. "I would suspect we have surpassed 100 million" cards,
Mr. Stein said, adding that the foundation stopped counting once the number
topped 60 million.

   At the request of the Shergold family, he said, the cards are being 

   At the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the number of calls to a special phone line
has recently risen from about 800 a month to more than 1,400, indicating the
chain-letter appeal has intensified, said Diana Whittle, a spokeswoman.

   "I can't think of any other appeals that have generated so many phone 
calls,"Ms. Whittle said, adding that she has a three-inch file stuffed 
with chain letters in her office. "The people who are calling are the 
ones who are obviously suspicious. They're saying, 'I think I heard about 
this two years ago, and I just want to make sure this is still not true.' "
Charity and Superstition

    Hazel Hammond was one who didn't check. Two weeks ago, the picture 
editor at American Express's Travel & Leisure Magazine in Manhattan 
received a letter asking her to help fulfill the dying wish of a sick boy.

   "It was an innocuous request," said Ms. Hammond, who immediately sent 
off her business card. "I didn't have to give blood or anything."

   It was a combination of charity and superstition that encouraged Ms. 
Hammond to heed the instructions in the letter and not invite bad luck by 
breaking the chain. So she dutifully printed 10 copies, as the letter 
requested, and forwarded them to friends throughout New York City.

   "I thought I'd do it and get it over with," Ms. Hammond said. After all, "I
believe in astrology, too."

   One of her acquaintances had already received the letter from someone 

   "It seems like something you want to do for someone, but you don't want to
waste your time," said Pam Older, vice president and director of marketing for
The New Yorker, who checked the story before redistributing the letter. "We
called the Make-a-Wish Foundation and found out the boy's appeal had already
been fulfilled. So I stopped the chain right there. Then I got Hazel's 

'Just Exploded From There'

    The Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs in Georgia, following several
inquiries from the media, investigated to make sure that the chain letter was
not a scheme to assemble a mailing list or solicit money and found no 
wrongdoing on the part of the Children's Wish Foundation, said a 
spokeswoman for the office, Carolyn Mills.

   Most feel the chain-letter campaign is simply a good-natured effort gone

   "I think it's amusing," Ms. Hammond said. "I'm sure the origin of it was
quite honest and sincere."

   In 1989, Craig, the son of a waitress and truck driver living in 
Carshalton, England, was suffering from a brain tumor and not expected to 
survive. The British media began to publicize the boy's desire to break 
the world record for receiving the most get-well cards, and eventually, 
Mr. Stein said, 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, Mr. Stein said.

   "It just exploded from there," he said. "It seemed his employees got so
enthused they sent it to all their suppliers and customers. And fax-o-mania
took hold."
Boy's Tumor Removed

    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, said a hospital spokesman, Tom 

   The boy still lives in England with his parents, said Mr. Stein, who 
stays in touch with the family.

   T-shirts, caps and other gifts sent to Craig are distributed to other sick
children at the request of Craig's mother, Marion. And the approximately 
$6,000 sent to the foundation in Craig's name is being set aside to 
offset any expenses incurred in trips to the United States for follow-up 

   In the meantime, Ms. Hammond ponders her good deed and admits there is one
thing she has left undone -- getting back to those friends she made the 
latest links in the chain.

   "That's what I'm feeling guilty about," Ms. Hammond said. "I need to call
them and say don't bother."


The above article was provided by: 
Andrew Steinberg                 
Law Librarianship Program                 Seattle, Washington USA
University of Washington                 "Illegitimi non carborundum"