By Karl Terry
I first became acquainted with Craig Sheppard about 15 years ago. At the time he was an 8-year-old boy suffering from terminal brain cancer.
I received more news on Craig last week. Now he’s a 7-year-old, still suffering from a brain tumor and still hoping to get included in the Guinness Book of World Records for collecting the most business cards.
It’s a hoax, of course. Craig Sheppard is not a real person but the chain letter that created him has kept him the same age with a terminal illness for a a decade and a half.
Last week I received a very fat business envelope from a large local company that I won’t embarrass here. It contained the retyped chain letter on company letterhead along with 11 pages with 20 names and addresses on each page. The addresses were all from New Mexico and Texas, most in Portales and Clovis and a very influential database it was.
It included a good number of the local attorney community, banks, CPAs, insurance agents, chambers of commerce, nearly two pages of Texas county judges, a sheriff and one newspaper.
The influential list that comes with the chain letter and the fact that the letter is retyped on company letterhead was enough to stop me amid a huge pile of mail 15 years ago and I laughed out loud when I opened this one. The current letter had taken things one notch further by associating itself with the Make-a-Wish Foundation and asking the recipient to send their business card to the organization and send the letter on to 20 more business people.
A quick check of Make-a-Wish Foundation’s home Web site produced a whole link on the site devoted to chain letters.
Right near the top of the list of the hoaxes they note is this one. Actually it lists several versions of the same basic request using different names including Craig Shergold, Craig Sheldon, Craig Sheppard, Craig Shelton, and Craig Shelford. Make-a-Wish says in the Web site that it doesn’t participate in any chain letters or other direct solicitation wishes.
The organization’s Web site also explains that the beginnings of the chain were bonafide but things have gotten a little out of hand since then. According to them and other non-profit Web-sites, it had its beginnings in 1989 when Craig Shergold, a 9-year-old from England, suffering from brain cancer, wanted to be listed in the record book for receiving the most greeting cards. A chain letter campaign was started and his wish was fulfilled in 1990. The cards kept on coming though and according to urbanlegends.com the mail received had reached 31 million pieces by 1991.
The good part about all that attention was the attention it attracted from an American philanthropist who paid for expensive brain surgery which left Craig cancer free. He is in his early 20s now and doing fine.
The story evidently inspired a made-for-TV movie about the chap on PAX several years ago. The hope was that the movie and publicity surrounding it would save the Shergold family from all the junk mail and stop the circulation of the chain letters. I guess it didn’t work.
By my calculation, the local business that sent me the most recent chain letter spent $14.80 on postage to keep the chain alive. Someone spent nearly an hour retyping the letter and preparing the mailing, along with envelopes, labels and paper. So a conservative estimate of what it cost this company is $20. If the 20 people on each of the 11 pages had instead sent $20 to the United Way of Eastern New Mexico, that organization would have been $4,400 closer to its goal this year. Instead it came up short.
The chain letter has evidently mutated to the Internet world of junk e-mail over the last few years, so at least it’s inspiring that snail mail is still getting its share of chain letters in this day and age. But it’s a shame the effort isn’t put to something beneficial.
Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. He can be contacted at 356-4481, ext. 33, or by e-mail: