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May 4, 2012

Going Nowhere First Class Style

by cmj0119

Skull Red Wax SealThe Dead Office was started in 1825 by the United States Postal Service in an effort to deal with “undeliverable” mail. In 1992, the name was changed to the more politically correct name of Mail Recovery Centers or MRC. These are facilities where mail ends up for any number of various reasons, but most commonly because, 1. They are “Blind Readings” with incomplete delivery information or illegible handwriting and no return address, 2. They are accidentally dropped into a mailbox or accidentally picked up by a postal worker with other out going mail, or 3. They are prank letters or letters sent by children to fictional people (Santa Claus, etc.). Over 90 million pieces of mail end up in these centers each year.

Mail that cannot be delivered or returned to the sender will end up at one of the two MRC locations in Atlanta, GA or St. Paul, MN. The process for handling letters and parcels is different. Letters are scanned with a magnetic eye in an effort to “see inside” the envelope to look for anything of value. Typically, checks and important documents use a particular kind of ink that this scanner can detect. If it is determined that there is nothing of value, the letter is immediately shredded. Letters with valuables are then reviewed by MRC postal employees, who are the only employees authorized to open mail. These clerks consider this to be a scared honor and take an oath to not read any more than is necessary to identify the recipient.

As for packages, all are opened and inspected. About 25% of parcels will eventually find their way to either the originally intended receiver, or back to the sender. Those parcels that cannot be delivered are stripped of the valuable “impersonal” items and those items are then sent to the Atlanta Facility for regularly scheduled auctions. The money made is used to help partially fund the cost of this courtesy service the USPS provides to customers.

In some cases, the MRC will store an item that is definitely valuable, but not exactly something they could sell, say, for example, an urn filled the ashes of a deceased person, or 14-carat gold dentures. Among some of the more interesting items discovered were a box with a live python in it, preserved animal brains, live rodents and tarantulas, and even Atlanta Brave’s major league pitcher Pedro Borbon’s World Series ring (which was eventually returned once he had been tracked down after being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and then to the Toronto Blue Jays).

The best way to avoid having your mail end up at the MRC is to simply use a return address. However, in the event that your mail is not delivered, you can always call the USPS and ask them to start the process of tracking it down at one of the two centers.

Sources:
http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/resources/6a2c_deadletters.html
http://arago.si.edu/index.asp?con=2&cmd=1&id=183147&img=1&pg=1
http://failuremag.com/index.php/feature/article/point_of_no_return/

Editorial Image:
Shutterstock Image #32308822

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