Status: Urban Legend The Oroville Mercury Register
has an interesting article about the lost art of saving— how people don't save stuff the way they used to. A lot of people, myself included, save rubber bands and plastic bags in order to reuse them, but back in the old days it was common to religiously save string and tinfoil. The tinfoil, in particular, was a bit of a mystery since it never seemed to be reused. It would just accumulate, the ball of it growing larger and larger over the years. The author of the article (I can't find a byline) also notes the strange, urban-legend-inspired custom of saving lids and other bits of junk:
ANOTHER STRANGE form of saving stemmed from a kind of misguided philanthropy. I have no idea how the myth got started, but a lot of people believed that if you saved enough cigarette packs, cigar wrappers or coffee can lids, you could obtain a variety of devices needed by handicapped people. Fifty thousand empty cigarette packs would fetch a hospital bed; 10,000 cigar wrappers would get you a wheelchair.
Curtis MacDougall, in his 1940 book about hoaxes, notes the case of Earl Baker (pictured): "A stranger told Earl Baker, 11, of Coatesville, Pa., that he could obtain an artificial leg by collecting 50,000 match box covers. Later Earl, who lost his leg when he took a dare to hop a moving freight train, learned it was a hoax. Sympathetic neighbors took up a collection to buy him an artificial substitute."
So this urban legend has been around for a while, but it's still going strong, as evidenced by the thread in the old hoax forum about Collecting Plastic Bottle Tops
. Lots of people are still out there diligently saving empty bags of potato chips or bottle tops to get someone a wheelchair. If you hear about such a campaign, it's almost always going to be a hoax. I suppose this urban legend appeals to people because it makes them feel like they're doing something worthwhile, and it also plays to the fantasy of taking junk and transforming it into something of value.