Don Powell, an Orchard Lake resident and Farmington Hills business owner, shows off his custom mailbox, where a mystery "family" showed up last August.

Michigan man searches for answers after ‘couple’ takes over custom mailbox

Don Powell opened his mailbox one day last August and found, along with the usual mix of bills and pizza coupons, two small dolls sitting on a miniature couch near a tiny table, along with a note: “We’ve decided to live here. Mary and Shelley.”

He first thought the wooden figurines – a man and a woman – were put in his mailbox by mistake. He wondered if someone in the neighborhood was playing a joke. “I went around to the other homes on the cul-de-sac to see if anyone else had gotten dolls in their mailbox,” he said. “No one had.”

After moving into his home with his wife 5 years ago, he ordered a custom mailbox designed to look like their Powell’s home. While it is against the law for someone other than the mailbox owner and the mail carrier to put items in a mailbox, Powell could see why a doll family might want to move in.

He was amused, but his first thought was to evict the couple and their belongings into the garbage can. But then, struck by a change of heart, he pushed the couple and their belongings to the back of the mailbox and went about his business.

That was just the beginning of the story. Soon after, someone dropped off a dog for the couple living in the mailbox, along with a rug and even some art for the wall. Then came a four-poster bed.

Dolls and furniture have been swapped in out of Don Powell's custom mailbox since August 2022.

“I thought, ‘OK, someone is really playing a joke on me,’” Powell said, admitting that by this time he was enamored by the situation and wanted to have some fun with it. “I didn’t think it was my neighbors.”

He went on Nextdoor, and asked whether anyone would fess up and admit they put Mary and Shelley in his mailbox, or if they knew who did. No one came forward, so he posted again, joking that he’d contacted the police and asked them to do extra patrols of his mailbox.

“The whole thing got rather whimsical,” he said. “I have a quirky sense of humor.”

When Halloween rolled around, Mary and Shelley were mysteriously replaced by two dolls in skeleton costumes. Around Christmas, Mary and Shelley reappeared with miniature-sized gifts for their mailbox home. Powell took pictures and documented it all on Nextdoor.

“The response (on Nextdoor) was just incredible,” he said. “People were saying, ‘This is so much fun to read, I was ready to get off of Nextdoor, but this makes me want to stay.’”

Many posters, he said, were leaving comments and sending Powell messages asking for the next installment.

At some point, a second mystery note appeared, claiming the Mary and Shelley dolls formerly lived in a two-story Dutch-style doll house, but had decided Powell’s mailbox house was more accommodating for their cousin Shirley – a third figurine with a broken leg – who sometimes visited the couple.

“Then, after the ice storm, I did a post that said the family was locked in the mailbox and couldn’t get out,” Powell said. “Somebody asked if they lost power, I said ‘No, they don’t have power to begin with, but they do have a wood burning stove and were working from home.’”

In the beginning, Powell said, he was worried the mail carrier would stop delivering the mail. Given the large size of the mailbox, space has not been an issue.

Dolls and furniture have been swapped in out of Don Powell's custom mailbox since August 2022.

Powell said no new furniture or other items have arrived in the last month or so. Still, at this point, he’s not sure he’s ready to learn the true identity of the person who brought Mary and Shelley into his life.

“I’m kind of enjoying the mystery,” he said. “I look forward to new things being added to the mailbox.”

The author of numerous health-related books, Powell says the experience has given him a new idea.

“I am thinking, given the reaction (on Nextdoor), of writing a children’s book,” he said. “I think it creates a novel story.”

 “everything in life is unusual until you become accustomed to it.     

-l. frank baum

credits: Laura Colvin, 


89 responses »

  1. I’d be creeped out. I remember a story by Agatha Christie, in which a creepy doll would take over the house of two old spinsters. I read that story for the first time when I was seven or eight, and it put me off dolls for the rest of my life.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Since we’ve gone mostly digital, it’s no longer exciting to feel the anticipation of what will be in a day’s stack of mail (besides bills, circulars, political ads, etc.) The anticipation this man must feel each day, and the excitement he feels when he discovers something is new or has changed, is palpable!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Absolutely delightful! I’m kind of jealous. My mailbox is in a neighborhood bank of locked boxes a block away. I appreciate the security, but it’s extremely inconvenient and it’s a cinch no mystery dolls are going to move in.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh my gosh—could this get any better? If I were a mail carrier, I would look forward to opening this mailbox each day. Not knowing who is responsible for what seems harmless fun adds to the allure.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am stuck in the alternate Universe where my youngest son got in trouble for putting a dead bird and dog poop in mailboxes on the the walk to grade school. Fortunately his cousin ratted him out before it got out of control. I want to live in the Universe you exist in.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A Banksy understudy?
    I think this is a fantastic idea and it reminded me that, when I lived in France, I found – one day and absolutely by chance – a sweet plastic pig in a dysfunctional large lantern in my garden. The power cable must have rotted away a long time ago, and the door was held closed by an old branch I found in my garden nearby. I never found out who put it there and more unusual: How could anybody access said garden? Our property was only accessible via either a large forged iron gate (always locked) and a vast staircase or a double iron gate to the parking, both locked too….. I had a long moment of panicking and feared the worst but the piggy was so innocent and nobody bothered me, so the story ended somewhat w/o an end. Piggy got sold with the lantern, house and garden!
    Still, if it weren’t stalkers, I would enjoy this kind of friendly invasion. I’m not afraid of being alone and believe in the good of human beings.

    Liked by 1 person

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