Don Powell
Don Powell

Metro Detroit homeowners had their mailbox taken over by a family of dolls and the whims of whoever’s pulling the strings.

A family of dolls taking up residence in a Metro Detroit mailbox has taken the internet by storm.

It was an ordinary summer day last August when Don Powell and his wife, Nancy, went to retrieve their mail at their Orchard Lake Village home.

Along with the pizza coupons, circulars and bills was a peculiar surprise. Powell found a couple of small wooden dolls — a man and a woman — sitting on a miniature couch placed in their mailbox by an unknown person or persons.

Courtesy of Don Powell

“There was also a note that said the dolls were named Mary and Shelley and that they liked our modern-style mailbox because it looked like a cozy house,” Powell said. “So, they decided to take up residence.”

At first, Powell thought it had to be a mistake and somebody placed the items in their mailbox inadvertently. He then wondered if it was a prank of some sort, and if others had this done to them as well. Powell looked around at the other mailboxes in their cul-de-sac and none of them had little wooden figurines like theirs did.

Ready to throw them out, something inside Powell decided to put them back and wait for the person who left them by accident to retrieve them. About two to three weeks later, Powell went to retrieve his mail again — only to find further additions to his mailbox.

Mary and Shelley were now sitting with a service dog. A throw rug, a painting on the back wall and a four-poster bed that took up a good chunk of the mailbox were also added.

Courtesy of Don Powell

“It was then I decided this is somebody playing a joke on us, and I’m going to go along with it,” Powell said.

Powell went on Nextdoor, a hyperlocal social networking service for neighborhoods, and made a tongue-in-cheek post describing what had happened while also asking for any information to find the person or persons responsible.

The reaction was remarkable, Powell said. Comments were full of people saying how funny and adorable they thought it was. One person said they spit out their coffee when reading about the situation. A small portion thought it was creepy.

But nobody came forth with any information or fessed up to the hijinks. Powell then made another tongue-in-cheek post.

“I said I contacted the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department and they’re going to run extra patrols through my neighborhood and that the Orchard Lake police crime lab had done fingerprinting on the mailbox,” Powell laughed. “None of which was true, I was just kind of elaborating on this mystery.”

Once again, the post garnered a huge response on Nextdoor. People asked Powell to keep the posts coming and to keep them posted on what he found out. It was then that Powell started to actively post about the lives of Mary and Shelley, making up tall tales, or doll tales, about their life.

A ‘Life of their Own’
Part of it was based upon another letter that had been put in the mailbox, addressed to the “landlord.”

Courtesy of Don Powell

It gave more information about Mary and Shelley, how they used to live in a two-
story Dutch-style mailbox in another part of Orchard Lake but were looking for a more contemporary single-story home with their advancing age. Their cousin Shirley, a third figurine that often entered the mailbox, who was disabled with a broken leg and accompanied by her service dog, also needed better accommodations. Having seen the Powells’ mailbox, they found a new, perfect home.

It didn’t end there. For Halloween, Mary and Shelley “left town” and were replaced by two doll-looking skeletons in black robes. Powell made another post related to that.

Around the holiday season, many people asked about Mary and Shelley’s religion and what they would be celebrating.

“I said in a post it was a mixed marriage, Mary was Christian and Shelley was Jewish, and they celebrated both holidays,” Powell said. “We didn’t get a menorah in the mailbox, but we did get a Christmas tree and seven or eight nicely decorated packages. Next holiday season, if a menorah is not put in, I’ll go find a dollhouse-sized menorah and add that to the holiday celebration.”

Courtesy of Don Powell

With all the additions, people could wonder how the Powell’s still get their mail and if the mailman has any logistical issues.

The Powell’s ordered this custom-designed mailbox after moving into their Orchard Lake Village home about five years ago. Though not an exact replica, the mailbox roughly resembles the Powells’ house, a modern Tobocman home with a flat roof.

The mailbox is equipped with plenty of windows and solar lighting which illuminate the mailbox at night. At 26 inches in length, space is not a problem, allowing Powell to move the dolls and furniture to the back of the mailbox so the mail can fit. Powell recalls his mailman saying he’s never seen anything like this in all his years on the job.

In the most recent mailbox switcheroo, the person(s) responsible took away the bed and put in a wooden workstation at which Mary sat. They also put in a wood burning stove.

During the ice storm Michigan saw earlier this year, Powell made another post while legitimately not being able to open the mailbox as it was frozen shut.

“I said Mary and Shelley are trapped in their home in the mailbox. They’re without electricity and they were relying upon the wood burning stove to keep warm,” Powell said.

In these eight months, Powell says it’s certainly created joy for him and his wife and has allowed for his creative writing juices to flow.

“We look forward to opening the mailbox and seeing what might be in there,” Powell said. “And I’ve always enjoyed writing. I’ve written 14 health books. I wrote a book on sports cliches. It’s actually gotten me to think about writing a children’s book about this, because it’s a fun story.”

Powell, 72, is president and CEO of the Michigan-based American Institute for Preventive Medicine, a company that facilitates worksite wellness programs for companies and hospitals throughout the country.

When asked if he’s hoping to find who’s behind the mailbox mischief, Powell says it’s not something he’s actively seeking at this time.

Courtesy of Don Powell

“I don’t need to know who’s doing it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s sinister in nature. I like it. I certainly don’t complain about it.”

In the first few months, there were five or six makeovers in terms of something being added or subtracted to the mailbox. In the past few months, it’s slowed down. Powell figures whoever’s behind it all may have been away for the winter, but now with the story all over national and local media, maybe they’ll see the notoriety and positive comments their work has attracted.

“People are really interested in the lives of Mary and Shelley — they want to know what they do for a living, if they have children, if they’re paying rent or if we’ve tried to evict them. It’s almost like they’ve become real people. It’s been a lot of fun,” Powell reflected.

“I think what’s captured everybody’s attention is the positive, uplifting nature. There have been thousands of comments. One woman said it’s the first time she’s smiled in a month since her sister passed away. It’s struck a chord that happiness and fun things certainly still have a place in our society.”

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