Sympathy Hoaxes and
Warm Fuzzy Stories

© 2000 by Walt Howe
(last revised October 11, 2000)
Missing Children Hoaxes. An unfortunate current trend in hoaxes is to fabricate missing children reports. It is hard to resist passing them along. Legitimate reports appear on milk cartons and show up in the mail daily, giving this type of hoax a lot of credibility. Like others in this category, people tend to pass them along blindly, figuring it can't hurt and it might help. Please take the time to check them out before passing them along. For missing children, search to see if a report is legitimate at The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. If the child's name does not appear in their list, it is almost certainly a hoax. Even if it is a real listing, we do not encourage this means of spreading the news. Chain letters clog bandwidth, reduce the credibility of real causes, violate the terms of service of most Internet providers, and divert resources from real problems.

Craig Shergold. Among the more unfortunate types of hoaxes is the story that appeals to sympathy and a good cause. The first and best known of these occurred in the late 1980's when 9-year old Craig Shergold was ill with a brain tumor. He asked to receive enough get-well cards to break a Guinness record, and it was spread in all forms of media, including e-mail chain letters. The post office near where he was hospitalized was swamped with cards, and he soon broke existing records. Today, after successful surgery, Craig Shergold is a healthy young man, but the story persists and thousands of cards still arrive every day. As the story changed over the years, get well cards became business cards, and the Children's Make-A-Wish Foundation was incorrectly worked into the story. The appeals still regularly appear on the nets, and lot of energy is wasted by well-meaning people sending cards and tying up resources that could be used much more usefully. The Children's Make-A-Wish Foundation has even set up a web page with the facts. If you run into this

Jessica Mydek. The story of Jessica Mydek appears to be a modern attempt to create a chain letter hoax story to rival Craig Shergold. The story reads something like this:

Little Jessica Mydek is dying of a rare form of cancer. She wants to make everyone aware of her disease and urge everyone to live life to the fullest. The American Cancer Society (ACS) will donate 3 cents to cancer research for everyone you send this message to. Send a copy to the ACS of your messages so they will know how much to contribute.

The American Cancer Society states on their web pages, "As far as the American Cancer Society can determine, the story of Jessica Mydek is completely unsubstantiated. No fund raising efforts are being made by the American Cancer Society using chain letters of any kind." See the full text of this quote.

Other Appeals. Here are some things to consider when you see one of these appeals, which come in a lot of guises. No charitable organization sponsors fund-raising efforts using chain letter e-mail. Hospitals do not give money to national charitable organizations, particularly not for chain letter signatures. Hospitals ask for money; they don't give it. There is no such disease as ostriopliosis. There is no such thing as the National Diesese Society by any spelling.

Chain e-mail letters of all kinds violate most Internet Providers user agreements, and can lead to account cancellation. No matter how realistic and sympathetic a charitable appeal seems, be suspicious about it and check the facts before taking any action.

Pull Tabs for Charity. Another frequent legend that makes the rounds in various forms is that you can collect pull tabs from soft drink cans and turn them in to purchase kidney dialysis, wheel chairs, or various other medical services. This is apparently not entirely a hoax, because the scrap tabs have some recycle value, and some have made the effort to collect and redeem them. If you collect enough of them and can find out how to recycle them, they can be turned into cash and applied to your favorite cause. It takes a huge volume of tabs to build any value, and you would probably do much better by collecting recyclable cans and bottles, if you are in a state that requires deposits, or just collect pennies. Don't support any pull tab collection scheme without researching it first.

Warm Fuzzy Stories for Good Luck. Another category of story that may or may not be a true hoax, but certainly can be classified as an Urban Legend, is the Warm Fuzzy Story that makes you feel good to read it. These are often distributed with an appeal to pass it along to as many people as you can for good luck, thus achieving the same mail-clogging affect that the other types do.

A current true story going around is the one about a schoolteacher nun, Sister Helen Mrosla, who had an eighth grade class write good things about their classmates on paper. One unforgettable student, Mark Eklund, kept the paper with things his classmates wrote about him for years, and when he later died in Vietnam, the paper was found on him. At his funeral, the paper was returned to Sister Mrosla, and other former classmates at the funeral revealed that they still had theirs, too. The story was published in Proteus Magazine and Readers Digest. A heart-warming story in its full three-page length, but it is being distributed with instructions to pass it along to as many people as possible for good luck, along with warnings that breaking the chain will bring bad luck.

An embellished version of the story has Mark Eklund returning from Vietnam, alive and embittered, and his life falls apart. Years later, while walking the streets in despair, he hears the sounds of a party going on in a building, enters it, and finds his old classmates celebrating a reunion and honoring Sister Mrosla on her 90th birthday. She sees him and hands him the paper of complimentary sayings she has preserved for years in hopes of seeing him again. His faith in life is restored.

Why someone felt the story needed to be embellished to the point of absurdity is hard to say, but it is going around the nets, too. If you receive either version-- or any other feel-good story, please stop it right there. Break the chain, or the curse of a thousand camel fleas will fall upon you. Honest!

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