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Sunday, September 28, 2003

Letter to a Legend

If this postcard crap bores you, at least read the part at the bottom after the row of stars.

Last Sunday I went to a stamp show and got a bunch of postcards. We came late, and I sat down at the first table I came to and didn't get up until we had to leave. Since it was near the end of the show, I got 30 postcards for $20, which seemed pretty good to me. The process of culling it down to only 30 cards was brutal.

But most of the cards in the boxes the dealer showed me were very old cards I didn't want, flowery things and Christmas cards from back in the '20s or so. There were a number of postcards with a Dutch theme---little caricatures of people in traditional Dutch clothing. The face of the cards would say something in a "Dutch" accent, e.g. "I am chust zo proud off you". I read somewhere that there were stereotypes of the Dutch in the early 20th century, which we have now lost. So perhaps simply being Dutch was funny in those days.

But I was looking for picture postcards, not cheap ethnic humor. Most of the ones I got this time were hand-tinted, and almost all of those were from Florida. Unfortunately, most of them were also unused, which makes them less interesting to me.

I'm really sorry that I can't post the card images, which would make these posts marginally more interesting.

The most interesting ones:

A modern postcard (only from '89!) portrays, Pedro, the giant neon sign from South Carolina's South of the Border. The card reads:

1. A Christmas Carol
2. Double Trouble
3. The Return of the Pink Panther
4. A Holiday Affair

Presumably these are all movies. It was sent to an Archway Cookie (mmm, cookies) sweepstakes contest, from a man in Florida.

(Postcards sent to contests fascinate me, don't know why.)

Another card shows a beautiful hand-tinted view of Apalachin, NY, and carries a rather snippy missive from a man writing to the Belmont Dispatch in Belmont, New York. He had asked for two copies of some ads (he was running?) and they only sent him one, so he's asking for an additional copy of each of the ads.

This was sent in July of 1958. This web page says that the Belmont Dispatch was under new management as of the previous month, so maybe they were not quite running smoothly. The web page says the Dispatch went belly-up in 1966, from lack of advertising. Or possibly from people wanting two damn copies of every ad they ran.

I was thrilled to get a card from pre-Castro Havana, a picture of the statue of Jose Marti. Except for some faint water stains the card's in good shape, with a Cuban stamp, which was never cancelled. It's dated "3-22nd", but there's no year.

Many of the postcards I saw bore exquisite copperplate handwriting. This person's writing is some of the worst I've seen. I can decipher the fact that he or she took the S.S. Florida to Havana and "He had int. flu all last wk--". Much of it, I decided, is abbreviations. Someone he/she saw in St. Petersburg had intestinal flu the week before. Way to share, honey. The card seems to be addressed to a couple in Haasick New York. That's it, no street address, and of course no zip code. There isn't a Haasick New York. Might be Haosick (which doesn't exist either), Gaasick, Saasick, or Seasick, for all I know.

No! It's Hoosick! I found the name of the man it was addressed to, buried in the Hoosick Rural Cemetery. Died in 1959. Perhaps of eye strain, if he had to read too many of these postcards. (Man, the web is awesome.) Unfortunately, this only pegs the card as being sent before 1959, which one sorta guessed.

The next card is another hand-tinted baby, of "Hotel Row" in Miami. (A google search of "hotel row" miami postcard turned up a thumbnail, but the original image isn't there.) It was sent in 1943 by a private in the Army. I can't make out his name---something like Noodard. Sent to a couple in Albany, New York, it reads:

"Hello folks---Didn't ever think I'd get this far away. Seems[?] awfully good to be here though with Kip[?]. I'm not too crazy about the weather - at least what I have seen. See you later, Maria and Kip." So I'm pretty sure that "Kip" was really Pvt Noodard (or whatever), and Maria his wife. A homesick girl. Wonder what the weather was like, that she didn't like it. (In Miami? In April?) It's in great condition; the recipients must have kept it carefully. Too bad I can't decipher the name.

Then there's a postcard of a large, red butte in Monument Valley. It's not one of the famous ones. The picture's kind of nice: intense red butte, blue sky, gnarled tree in the foreground. This one's had liquid spilled on it while fairly new, because half of the writing on the back is smeared. It's postmarked November of 1958.

The message itself is vaguely interesting (the senders apparently had to be lead by someone else---evidently a stranger---through Kansas City, for some reason). The really interesting thing is the little credit blurb at the bottom: "KODACHROME by BARRY GOLDWATER".

Ha ha! Barry Goldwater! Well, I'm sure that there is more than one Barry Goldwater. Maybe, but this is probably that Barry Goldwater, given that he was an avid photographer. In fact, in 1976 he published a book of Southwestern photographs, Barry Goldwater And The Southwest, and last year Arizona State University commissioned a photomosaic portrait of Goldwater, created from his own Arizona photographs. (Why is he snarling?)

The card was published by Bob Petley, better known for his comic Western postcards.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now, you all must BOW DOWN before me, because I have procured a helping of history, a lagniappe of legend. I bought a hand-tinted postcard of this mountain in Leadville, Colorado. It's called the Mount of the Holy Cross, and as you see, the crevices form a visible cross when the snow has nearly melted. Here's a picture of the actual postcard (with brighter colors than mine), but it's for sale and the image might disappear at some time in the future.

Now, the subject is not the interesting part, oh no. Nor is the sender, a lady from Liberty, Missouri. No, the interesting part is the recipient: Craig Shergold. Craig was a sick little boy who grew up to be a legend. He is the patron saint of alt.folklore.urban.

Once upon a time, Craig Shergold, an English boy, was dying. He had an inoperable brain tumor, and before he died, he wanted to make it into the Guiness Book of World Records for most get-well cards. So the word was put out through various means, and eventually he did make it into the book with 16 million cards. He set this record in 1989; the previous record was just over a million.

The call for cards attracted the attention of John Kluge, who had Craig brought to the US for treatment. He recovered, and now is about 23 years old.

But that didn't stop the cards coming. Well-meaning people kept urging others to send cards, especially to the Children's Wish Foundation (which sponsored Craig's quest), and the Make-a-Wish Foundation (both URLs refer to the "chain letters" section of each web site).

Now, Children's Wish is located in Atlanta, where this card was sent. It's addressed to "Craig Shirgle" at 58 Perimeter Circle in Atlanta. Children's Wish used to be on Perimeter Center East. This site shows several examples of pleas for cards, with many different spellings of Craig's name, and different addresses for the cards to be sent. (None of them is 58 Perimeter, but some are 32 Perimeter, which I did see in the dealer's stack. I also spotted Craig Shirgold and Greg something.). They also give Craig's age variously as 7 and 17, and at least one has the classic Keen[e], NH, variation, as well as a confusion between get well, birthday, and business cards.

Anyhow, this particular card says:

Dear Craig -

Wanting to show you a cross on a mountain made of snow. Christ will heal if you will call His name and we will all pray as you do. Get well soon.

The front of the card has, printed at the bottom, "Only believe, Love Ya". The sender has also stuck a gold address sticker on the front of the card.

The postmark seems to be 1999, but given that it has 15 cents postage on it, I'm guessing it's 1989 (that was the postcard rate then). Which means that it might have been a genuine original card (this FAQ says the record was broken in November, 1989, and the card was sent in June of that year). I don't know whether the fact that it's sent to the wrong name at (probably) the wrong address would invalidate it. But if it was good, why didn't it go on to Britain?

So, WOW! I'm nearly faint at the excitement of it all! I chose this card out of several because it was an old-fashioned hand-tinted one (but maybe not---those are usually linen; this only looks linen---the material seems to be ordinary cardboard). But now I'm kicking myself because I didn't pick up another that had Craig's name correctly spelled.

This site is chock full of modern info, including, of course, the Snopes page. Snopes says that the Children's Wish Foundation had to move from that address because of the cards, and that the Shergolds' old address was given its own post code. An estimated 200 million cards have been received.

And now I got one.