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England’s Great Postcard Flood: A Worthy Cause That Got Waylaid in the Mail

Associated Press

Thirteen-year-old Mario Morby began collecting postcards for charity last year during a battle with cancer. He has received nearly 2 million of them in the mail, setting a world record.

But he has mixed feelings about the Great Postcard Flood, and prefers swimming and tennis to collecting them, now that his cancer is in remission. For Mario and his family, it’s been the story of a good cause waylaid somewhere in the mail.

With some well-wishers from around the world thinking he was someone else and others accusing him of a hoax, the cards cheered Mario but pained him too. For these and other reasons, Mario’s entry will be the first and last for the Guinness Book of Records in postcard collecting.

“I thought I was only going to get 48,000,” said Mario, a cheerful, curly-haired boy who suffered more than two years of grueling treatment for a malignant tumor in the pelvis.

“But they kept coming. One day I had 60 sacks,” he said at his home near the central England city of Birmingham.

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His father, David Morby, sorted cards from early afternoon until past midnight every day for months, and estimates they received 2 million. His mother, Anna, said “it took over” their lives and those of their other two children Dassos, 17, and Elena, 8.

The saga began last September when the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where Mario was treated, asked him to take over the campaign another boy had started. Its aim was to set a record and raise money for the hospital.

So far, the family has raised 1,700 pounds ($2,800) through sales at an auction house which has taken most of the cards. Many were picture postcards from around the world. Purchasers of the cards mainly were people who collect postcards, as others collect stamps.

Some of the cards Mario received were considered valuable--his mother said a few dated to the 18th Century--but Mario has kept only three.

Postcards are still trickling in, but the post office now diverts them to a cancer fund-raising group.

Worse than the numbers were the distortions. Small ads placed locally by the family were spread by others, and the further afield the appeals went, the more skewed the message became.

“They started coming with my Dad’s name,” says Mario. “They thought I was a 7-year-old boy named David. They were saying, ‘God Bless, I’m sorry to hear you’re dying.’

“Sometimes they sent things too, but they were all things for 7-year-olds,” said Mario, whose mother says her son didn’t know that cancer could kill him until he read the cards.

“If I thought it was going to get out of hand the way it did, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Mario’s father, who quit his job as a stonemason to spend time with his son when he became ill and only recently found other work cooking chickens for retail sale.

“But he got his name in the Guinness book and we raised money for the hospital, which is something I wanted to do. They saved his life,” he said.

Mario’s mother said the cards helped occupy Mario during the long days when he was too ill to attend school.

Not all were pleasant, Anna Morby said. Some people mixed up Mario with a fictional 8-year-old cancer-stricken Scottish boy, “Buddy,” who was at the center of a 5-year hoax.

A mystery hoaxer had circulated appeals in 1982 saying Buddy’s last wish was to get a record number of postcards to win a place in the Guinness Book of Records, and some 10 million people, including President Reagan, responded.

Because it was a hoax, Guinness did not count that collection as a record.

As a result of that hoax, Mario received letters accusing him of being the perpetrator.


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