Redemption rumours are a subgroup of contemporary legend. The core of the story is that a person, usually young or vulnerable, is in trouble or need but can be saved or cured if we all do some relatively minor but cumulatively useful thing. The earliest known example was reported in the Illustrated London News (18 May 1850), 349:extraordinary postage stamps contribution: Some time since, there appeared in the public journals a statement to the effect that a certain young lady, under age, was to be placed in a convent, by her father, if she did not procure, before the 30th of April last, one million of used postage stamps. This caused numerous persons to forward stamps for the purpose of securing her liberty…'
extraordinary postage stamps contribution: Some time since, there appeared in the public journals a statement to the effect that a certain young lady, under age, was to be placed in a convent, by her father, if she did not procure, before the 30th of April last, one million of used postage stamps. This caused numerous persons to forward stamps for the purpose of securing her liberty…'
Modern versions of the story often involve the collection of particular branded products—crisp packets of a certain brand, the pull-out tabs of cigarette packets, the bar-codes off other packets, ring-pulls from soft-drink cans, and so on, and if we collect a million… One favourite promised outcome is that they will supply a kidney machine to a local hospital. These are regularly reported in local and national newspapers when the disappointed dedicated collectors find they have been deluded.
Another force comes into play here in the form of ostension, which is the term used for when ‘folklore’ becomes ‘reality’ by someone pursuing an idea and making it real. In Britain, the classic case was young Craig Shergold, of Surrey. There have been numerous examples of rumoured sick children wanting our help in cheering up or cure, and when Craig, aged 10 in 1989, was diagnosed as having a terminal brain tumour a friend suggested an appeal for get-well cards to get him into the Guinness Book of Records and cheer him up. From a slow local start, Craig started receiving cards from all over the world. By 1991, over 33 million cards had been received (Sun (7 Mar. 1991), and they still arrive. As countless people copied the details and passed them on, the name and address and age became garbled (‘Craig John’ is how it appears most often), and someone somewhere changed it to ‘business cards’ and ‘compliments slips’. The invention of the fax and E-mail has speeded up the distribution process. Craig's family has appealed, on numerous occasions, for the deluge to cease (they stopped counting at 100 million), but there seems to be no way to stop it. Craig underwent a successful operation in America in 1991.
Marion Shergold, Craig Shergold: A Mother's Story (1993); Folklore Society Cuttings Collection.