Craig Shergold was a typical nine year-old living in the UK when, in 1988, he started complaining of ear aches. But his ear problems were not the typical ones suffered by young children. Shergold’s were caused by brain tumors believed to be terminal at the time — he was expected to live only a few months. In 1989, Shergold’s friends and relatives, looking to accomplish the amazing during his short time left on Earth, decided that he should break a world record. They wanted Shergold to receive the most greeting cards — ever.
A few decades later, Shergold is still alive, having undergone a successful experimental operation in the U.S. in 1991. And he has that world record, too. He has received an estimated 350 million greeting cards in the last twenty-plus years.
The people closest to Shergold started a chain letter, asking the recipients to send Craig a greeting card, explicitly to get his name into the Guinness Book of World Records. The efforts picked up steam quickly, with the Children’s Wish Foundation International, an organization which aims to fulfill the wishes of terminally ill children, helping solicit greeting cards. (Children’s Wish claims to have done so not via chain letter, but by other, less controversial means.) Whether Children’s Wish’s efforts or the chain letter’s were the driving force behind this early success is unknown. But by May of 1990, Shergold’s supporters had met their goal. Shergold has received over 16 million greeting cards, an accomplishment noted by Guinness. And a year later, Guinness updated the record, as Shergold, still alive, hit 33 million.
The attention never stopped. The chain letters, which began as paper-and-ink messages requiring a stamp, merged quickly into email, where it spread even faster. By 1998 — seven years after Shergold’s tumors were surgically removed — he had received over 250 million cards, and the postal service gave his childhood home its own postal code in order to handle the volume of mail. And as About.com notes, Shergold’s efforts have now flipped. Instead of asking for more greeting cards, he has asked that people stop — but to no avail.
Since then, Shergold’s family has moved out of the home to which the greeting cards are still being sent. Where do all the cards end up? According to the Make a Wish Foundation (which was not involved in Shergold’s campaigns), they go right to a nearby recycling center, most likely unopened.
From the Archives: World Record Record Holder: Meet the person who holds the world record for most world records held.
Related: A set of flash cards — half Care Bears, half Strawberry Shortcake.