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©2020 by Unlock Your History

1960 Christmas Card Mystery


If I have a few extra minutes and happen to be passing an antique shop, I'll poke my nose inside and keep my eyes open for interesting old postcards and the like, especially ones in Norwegian, Swedish, or Dutch.

One day last April I happened to be passing through Fayette, WV where I stopped in the New River Antique Mall and found a veritable trove of Christmas and New Year's postcards all from 1960, mainly in Norwegian, Danish and Swedish but with a smattering of other languages, including Finnish, Spanish, even Estonian.

Someone had blanked out the recipient's name on many of the cards, but they all were sent to Hardy, VA. We started looking at the cards. A few said "Dear Little Girl" or "Dear Doris" and a handful still showed the name Doris Ridgway. Judging from the notes, it seemed like people must had a specific reason to send this particular girl all kinds of holiday cards for Christmas in 1960. A card showing the Austrian Alps mentions hearing her story on the radio. The first is dated December 22 - perhaps that was the day of some special radio broadcast?

I got curious! Solving this mystery turned out to be quite easy. A quick search revealed an article from The Roanoke Times from just over two years ago - plus many others from years ago.

It turns out that in December 1960, a story about a Virginia girl, dying from a bone disease, went out on the National Weather Service Wire. She wanted Christmas cards.

Young Dorothy Ridgway quickly started receiving bags of mail from around the country and world, including a note from the First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.

Dorothy survived, although the disease did leave its impact. As an adult she grew to about 4 feet tall and had such severe allergies she was mostly confined to her home.

In 1983 a reporter for Parade magazine returned and published a somewhat bleak story on her then current life (one that Dorothy found overly critical). Nonetheless, the public once again flooded her with mail and gifts. In fact, the news reported that she received over half a million cards!

In 2017, a Roanoke reader wrote in to ask whatever happened to the "little girl from Hardy who was reported to have a bad disease and as a result heard from people all over the world"? The paper reported that at the time she was 65 and still living in the same house where she first received all those letters as a 7-year old girl.

Quite a story - all uncovered (for me) after finding what I now know was a very small selection of those cards! Now....how did those cards get to that store? That's research for another day.

p.s. This story highlights how names can easily change when heard in a different language or accent. We had several postcards with the name Doris, but the girl was definitely Dorothy. The state of Virginia also shows up with some very interesting spellings (Vergenea, Wirginia, Vierginia)! Always keep on your toes when looking at names as they cross from one language to another!

Do you have any German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish or Norwegian documents you can't read? We can help. Find out more here.

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