Last summer, Orchard Lake resident Don R. Powell discovered that two dolls, Mary and Shelley, had taken up residence in his custom-made mailbox.

Last summer, Orchard Lake resident Don R. Powell discovered that two dolls, Mary and Shelley, had taken up residence in his custom-made mailbox.

Photo provided by Don R. Powell

Dolls take up residence in Orchard Lake mailbox

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published April 24, 2023

 Aside from two dolls, there have been a dog, a wood-burning stove and a Christmas tree with presents underneath it placed in the mailbox of Orchard Lake resident Don R. Powell.

Aside from two dolls, there have been a dog, a wood-burning stove and a Christmas tree with presents underneath it placed in the mailbox of Orchard Lake resident Don R. Powell.

Photo provided by Don R. Powell


ORCHARD LAKE — Last summer, the life of Orchard Lake resident Don R. Powell took a “crazy” turn.

One day last August, he went to check his mailbox, as he normally does.

But on that particular day, he saw more than he bargained for when he took a look inside.

“I noticed two little dolls sitting on a kind of a loveseat and a little table. And there was just a sticky note that said, ‘Mary and Shelley,’” Powell said. “I’m thinking to myself, (and) my wife is with me, ‘They must’ve put these in our mailbox by accident.’”

Powell lives on a cul-de-sac, and he learned that none of his neighbors had dolls in their mailboxes.

He estimated that his mailbox is “rather big” at 15 inches wide, 26 inches long and 10 inches high.

Powell said that his mailbox was custom-made to look similar to the house he and his wife share.

After thinking about throwing the dolls out, he had second thoughts.

“Instead of throwing them out, I said, ‘Why don’t I just put ’em back in there? Maybe the person who put ’em in by accident is going to realize that and retrieve them,’” Powell said.

Approximately two or three weeks later, not only were the dolls still there, but additional items were placed inside the mailbox, including a rug on the floor, a little dog and a picture hanging up behind a couch.

That prompted Powell to pay a visit to Nextdoor, an app in which residents can get local tips and buy and sell items, among other things.

“I went on Nextdoor and did a post, kind of tongue-in-cheek, that I was trying to find the culprits,” he said. “So I went on that app and kinda made it into a detective story — if anybody could identify or knows who did it. And I said, ‘Person or persons,’ like it’s some big job that was done.”

Powell said that he got a big response to his post.

“People were saying, ‘This is so funny.’ ‘This made my day.’ ‘I spit up my coffee when I started reading this.’ So it egged me on that this is a positive thing that other people find humor in,” he said.

In more “tongue-in-cheek” fashion, Powell said that he also contacted the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and the Orchard Lake Police lab to find out if they could check for fingerprints on the mailbox.

Other items that have been added to the mailbox since Mary and Shelley first appeared include a four-poster bed and a wood-burning stove.

Around Halloween, skeletons were placed inside, which was followed by a Christmas tree with presents underneath it near Christmastime.

On one occasion, Powell said, there was a letter in his mailbox that provided more details about Mary and Shelley.

He said that it was “obviously the same person who put them there.”

Powell shared the content of the letter: “We lived in a doll house that was two-story, but our cousin Shirley had a broken leg and had trouble going up and down the steps,” the letter stated. “Walking along through the neighborhood, we saw your one-story custom-made mailbox. We thought it would make a perfect new home.”

The story of how Mary and Shelley ended up in his mailbox is a mystery that Powell doesn’t necessarily want to solve anymore.

He was asked if there are any suspects.

“I have an idea, but it’s almost like I don’t even want to find out, because I like the idea of them continuing to add — to change things around,” Powell said. “It gives me a sense of surprise when I open the mailbox, if indeed there is something new there. And of course, (it) gives me fodder to talk about Mary and Shelley. Somebody that’s reading the posts and reacting to it — amongst those 382 — is probably the person responsible.”

Since the story of Mary and Shelley has gone public, including via his posts, Powell said that he has become a “little bit of a celebrity” in the neighborhood.

“I like to make people laugh; I like people to be happy, and this is one small way of doing that,” he said. “Making people happy is helping people. … I enjoy it.”

Powell’s sense of humor is what led his son, Jordan, who is an attorney residing in Chicago, to originally suspect that it was his dad who placed Mary and Shelley in the mailbox.

“My dad’s kind of a jokester, and he gets a kick out of playing jokes and funny and quirky things,” Jordan said.  “So my first thought was that he did it and set up the whole thing himself. … But then he finally convinced me it wasn’t him and it was actually a neighbor or somebody else doing it.”

Jordan shared his current perspective of the saga of Mary and Shelley landing in his parents’ mailbox.

“Whoever was doing it or is doing it, I’m not sure that anybody knows — I thought it was clever, and something during odd times in all of our lives right now — to see something different and kind of cheery and happy,” he said. “My dad got quite a kick out of it, so it was nice to see him excited about it.”

Powell said that he has gotten comments from people inquiring if Mary and Shelley have electricity or enough food, and what kind of work they do.

“There’s this kind of aura around Mary and Shelley that people want to find out more about them,” he said.

Powell thinks his mailbox was chosen to be Mary and Shelley’s home because of its size and because it looked like a “cozy house.”

Although Powell said that he hasn’t gotten anything new in the mailbox pertaining to Mary and Shelley for the past month or so, the intrigue hasn’t stopped.

“It’s kinda taken on a life of its own,” he said. “It’s gotten a lot (of) notoriety, and I’m having fun with it. I have a quirky sense of humor, so this is right up my alley. … Everybody is shocked by the whole concept of it, and these are not little cheapo dolls — they’re all wooden figures, so they’re quite expensive in nature.”

Powell is the president and CEO of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine in Farmington Hills. However, Mary and Shelley’s arrival could help lead to a second career.

“It’s gone on and on, and the response, which is so heartwarming, is so uniformly positive,” Powell said. “Because we live in such a kind of, I’d say a negative-oriented period of time — there’s just so much bad stuff going on in the world — this has been an uplifting, positive thing, and it’s actually kind of inspired me to think about writing a children’s book on this same concept.”

Powell said that his letter carrier has joked that “he knew us before we had people living in our mailbox.”

So long as he keeps getting reactions like that, Mary and Shelley aren’t likely to have to go find a new mailbox to crash in anytime soon.

“As long as there’s new stuff in the mailbox (and) as long as people don’t get sick and tired of it,” Powell said. “You might get people rolling their eyes — ‘Oh, not Mary and Shelley again.’ But for the most part, the vast majority enjoy it.”