A slice of history, a musical museum in Maine 

 The illustration of a love of music and all things musical, is a unique and very personal expression. To be able to develop this illustration into a museum presentation of the highest caliber and deeply involve visitors on an emotional level, is one of the great creations and achievements of Douglas Henderson and Lois Konvalinka. The museum took the visitor to another place in time, with a display of musical boxes, player pianos, and many other works of art and musical ephemera.  Tasteful and authentic decoration of each period display was carried out by Lois and tours through the museum and it's wonders, were guided by Douglas.

The museum was immensely popular, with many visitors making repeated visits to the attraction during it's 23 years of operation.  The evening concerts, a major draw for the museum, often went on till 2 or 3 am when the audiences reacted to the piano and organ rolls, presented by Douglas. Many high profile personalities attended the museum, from Robert Duvall  to Liberace.

 The Musical Wonder House (Music Museum): THE GOLDEN AGE - 1963-1986

    The Musical Wonder House was a definitive museum of mechanical musical instruments for the home, shown and played in a setting of historical elegance - an 1852 Georgian style Sea Captain's mansion.

   Lois Konvalinka and Douglas Henderson were both antique musical box enthusiasts, going back to 1946. They had friends who possessed wonderful examples and visited locations with automatic instruments on display. A coincidence: both Lois and Douglas visited Sutro's in San Francisco back in 1946, primarily for the musical boxes. They would not meet until 1960 when Douglas came East to work with QRS Music Rolls, located in the Bronx.

 Guided Tours went nonstop from May through October, most given by Mr. Henderson, whose years of experience in the field dated back to the early 1950s, when he also began making virtuoso rolls for Player-Pianos. There were Evening Concerts several times a week during the peak of the season.

    People came from all over the world to experience performances of restored antique mechanical instruments and the museum was featured in many magazine articles, newspapers, radio broadcasts and six programs on Public Television, taped in Durham NH. During the museum's GOLDEN AGE, visitors experienced working examples of instruments from the late 18th Century to 1931, a balanced presentation of 'living musical history' which recreated the sounds from bygone eras.


    In 1986 Douglas and Lois decided it was time to devote more time and energy to the successful ARTCRAFT Music Rolls, which began in 1982. This became the first full-time perforating/publishing operation for player rolls by Mr. Henderson, having arranged them since the early '50s in California ... and producing many unique rolls designed for performance during his Guided Tours at the museum in the 1960s through the middle 1980s.

    Those who visited The Musical Wonder House during the first 23 years of its operation will always remember the displays, the d├ęcors by Lois Konvalinka and the stellar performance of the antique musical instruments. 

    "Lois Konvalinka and I will always remember those "good times" shared with often interactive audiences, many being people who returned season after season for another memorable Guided Tour". LDH.


 Conducting guided tours through the museum was a perfect musical outlet for Douglas Henderson. With a vast wealth of knowledge, not only of the instruments on display, but of all manner of mechanical musical apparatus and perhaps more importantly, an intrinsic knowledge and command of the music itself, who better to conduct a musical tour through some of the finest examples of music automation,  than one who has for decades arranged the music and perforated the rolls himself.

You can ask Douglas questions about most any subject in the music world and you will receive an answer or observation that will be both interesting and correct. One of the reasons visitors to the museum enjoyed the tours so much, few know as much as Douglas about this field, and fewer still can make the subject even more interesting than it already is. There are rich and varied stories behind every mechanical musical instrument, it's makers, those who produce the music that plays on these devices, and the actual owners of the instruments, from all walks of life. You could be guaranteed an anecdote attached to every piece.

Nothing like this museum existed before, and nothing like it exists today. The creation of this museum in quiet Maine by Douglas and Lois was the result of a partnership of good taste, musical knowledge and a subject so rich, that it's history would fill many volumes.

 

Douglas Henderson working his 1911 Model #5 Leabarjan perforator. 

 Set-up on the cliffs of Searsport Shores Resort Maine.

Here's Lois by an Austrian lake in 1955. Her beautiful smile never left and she had it to the very end. She was always ready to take a chance on cultural things and loved ballet, Grand Opera, operettas and classic musicals such as OKLAHOMA! 

The late Lois Konvalinka.

Lois passed away at age 95, peacefully at home in the company of her long term partner and companion Douglas, on the 13th January 2013, in Wiscasset Maine.

A woman of beauty, grace, poise and charm, Lois was a consummate lover of music, and spent countless hours listening to the great composers works, interpreted by some of the greatest musicians ever to grace the piano.  Her superb taste, left an indelible mark on the many thousands of visitors to her and Douglas' Musical Museum in Wiscasset, with the amazing period decoration of each room of the museum.

 Her grandmother - a farm woman (whose house is surrounded by '20s residences now in Wash DC) - went to see Pres. McKinley to get her son back from the Spanish-American War. He joined a few months too early and the crops needed to be harvested. McKinley got him home pronto. (Can you imagine that the Pres. had visiting hours like a doctor on those days?)

        Former Pres. Taft drove his touring car around the corner of their house every Sunday, to visit some cronies in Kensington MD. Her parents said, "That's a famous man, so you should wave to him." She did ... and for years to come!

        When she was about 11 she went to a White House reception by invitation with her parents and spent the afternoon with Mrs. Coolidge who talked about and showed her some special roses, including one named "Lois".

        In the late '20s she and her now 98 year old cousin were in a silent movie called CLEAN HEARTS AND CLEAN HERDS about having cows tested for TB (a problem again today with raw milk and uneducated 'organic' consumers).  They used to check it out at the National Archives in the '40s to run as a party amusement on occasion.

        She heard Fritzi Scheff sing KISS ME AGAIN (for whom it was written by Victor Herbert), Martinelli, Rubinstein (piano) ... you name it.

        In the '40s she criss crossed on Harry Truman's morning walks (only 2 Secret Service men then) and they had a "nodding acquaintance", daily.  She was en route to the State Dep't. and he was returning to the White House.

        She had memories of Rachmaninoff playing a Concerto at Constitution Hall, Marion Anderson being denied the right to sing there, seeing a Passion Play at the Washington Auditorium (torn down in the '60s), Emlyn Williams, Joseph Shildkraut and the famous actors of the past.

        You just don't run into a person like that every day ... 

L. Douglas Henderson.

As you can tell, Lois led a full and musical life. She will be missed by many, including those of us who never had the pleasure to meet her in person.
        


 

 Lincoln County News | Newcastle, ME

Sunday, January 25, 2015                                                  Serving Maine and Lincoln County for over a century.

Reproduced courtesy of The Lincoln County News

The Rise and Fall of the Musical Wonder House


Douglas Henderson holds framed photographs of the Musical Wonder House Dec. 8. When Henderson left the museum in 1986, the collection he helped build was valued at approximately $3 million. He received nothing from its recent liquidation. (Abigail Adams photo) 

By Abigail W. Adams 

In the spring of 2014, neighbors reported seeing dozens of trucks outside the Musical Wonder House in Wiscasset. The museum's collection of antique music boxes, which had achieved international acclaim, was loaded into them. 

The owner, Paulo Carvalho, told neighbors the Musical Wonder House was closing temporarily for renovations, which required the collection to be removed from the museum. 

Carvalho was actually transporting the collection to auction houses in Europe for sale, former employees and associates said. The property that housed the Musical Wonder House, 16-18 High St., went into bank foreclosure. Carvalho returned to his native Brazil with profits from the sale of the collection, those that knew him said. 

It was the final chapter in the story of a unique and eclectic museum that had been an institution in Wiscasset since its establishment in 1963.

The wonder years

The Musical Wonder House was founded in 1963 by Douglas Henderson, Lois Konvalinka, and Danilo Konvalinka. The trio met in Washington, D.C. through a shared love of antique music boxes and player pianos. 

The Konvalinkas ran the Old Salzburg Music Boxes, a shop in Georgetown. Douglas Henderson was skilled at crafting rolls for player pianos. Upon meeting, the three immediately joined forces. 

"We had this musical bond," Henderson said. 

Lois Konvalinka suggested the formation of a museum to house their combined collection of antique music boxes and player pianos. They selected Wiscasset, one of Lois Konvalinka's favorite vacation spots. 

The trio purchased 16-18 High St. in 1962 and traveled through Europe to build their collection. The Musical Wonder House opened its doors one year later. The 32- room former sea captain's mansion in Wiscasset was filled with the Konvalinkas' and Henderson's rare and extensive collection. 

The museum attracted visitors from around the globe. In addition to showcasing 18th century antiques, the Musical Wonder House bought, sold, and restored music boxes and player pianos. 

In addition to the museum, the trio operated a store in Boothbay and at several other locations throughout the United States. 

Susan Endicott, of Boothbay, worked for the Konvalinkas and Henderson for approximately 12 years. She ran the Merry Music Box shop in BoothbayHarbor, which sold recordings from the antique music boxes. For a short time, she even lived at the museum. "It was an incredible place," Endicott said. 

Mike Everett, an Illinois native, worked independently in the Midwest repairing antique music boxes. He met Danilo Konvalinka through a mutual friend and moved to Wiscasset to work in the Musical Wonder House's repair shop in 1982. 

"It was a great institution and a great asset to the general public," Everett said. "They gave the world a lot of beautiful music." 

The partnership that built the Musical Wonder House began to dissolve a short time later. In 1986, Henderson and Lois Konvalinka moved out of the Musical Wonder House. The following year, Lois and Danilo Konvalinka divorced. 

"That was the end of the Musical Wonder House for me," Henderson said. "The magic was gone." 

Danilo Konvalinka continued to operate the Musical Wonder House. However, with deteriorating health, he found himself in serious financial trouble. The Konvalinkas and Henderson never entered into a legal agreement to delineate ownership of their collection, which Henderson said was valued at approximately $3 million in 1987. 

In 2006, after Danilo Konvalinka suffered a massive stroke, Joe Villani and Paulo Carvalho entered the scene. They convinced Konvalinka to sign the Musical Wonder House's collection over to them, friends and former associates said, and left Danilo Konvalinka, Lois Konvalinka, and Douglas Henderson with nothing.

The final years

The Musical Wonder House might have ended in 1986 for Lois Konvalinka and Douglas Henderson. However, for Danilo Konvalinka, the museum and the drive to expand the collection of antique music boxes never stopped. 

"It really was his passion and his life's work," Susan Endicott said. "All he really cared about was adding to the collection. He used to shuffle money around so he could keep adding to it ... He was a magician with robbing Peter to pay Paul." 

Everett, who continued to work for the Musical Wonder House until it closed in 2014, said Konvalinka took out a large equity loan on the house and was struggling to make payments. 

Henderson said Danilo Konvalinka took out a credit card in his ex-wife's name and maxed it out. Henderson, who lived with and cared for Lois Konvalinka until her passing in 2013, still receives collection calls from the credit card company. 

Danilo Konvalinka had suffered minor strokes since the late 1980s. In 2006, he had a massive stroke and was kept at an area rehab facility, unable to return home alone. That is when Villani and Carvalho established themselves as Konvalinka's longtime friends and caregivers. 

Villani and Carvalho were familiar with the Musical Wonder House and Danilo Konvalinka as tourists, Endicott said. Following Konvalinka's stroke, in 2006, Villani convinced Konvalinka to make him his power of attorney, Endicott said. They promised to take care of Konvalinka and under Villani and Carvalho's watch, Konvalinka returned home. 

"They claimed to be good friends of his," Endicott said. "But in 12 years, I never heard Danilo mention them once. In my opinion, they really prayed on a weak, elderly man who was desperately trying to hold onto what he had." 

Villani and Carvalho moved into the Musical Wonder House with Konvalinka and began to assert an increasing amount of control over the collection. According to friends and neighbors, Villani and Carvalho convinced Konvalinka to form a trust for the collection to protect it from Konvalinka's accruing debt. 

Roger Baffer, of Woolwich, was a longtime friend of the Konvalinkas and Henderson. He was there at the height of the Musical Wonder House and he watched as the museum deteriorated and the collection was sold off. 

"They said they would help and they helped alright," Baffer said. "They took over the whole operation. Konvalinka wasn't even made a trustee of his own trust." 

Villani and Carvalho became the trustees of the Danilo Konvalinka Trust. They were Konvalinka's caretakers in name, however, according to friends and neighbors, they isolated and neglected him. 

Gail Andretta moved next door to the Musical Wonder House in 2001 and struck up a friendship with Konvalinka. 

Andretta used to bring Konvalinka food and invite him over for the holidays. Konvalinka used to hang little trinkets on her door as gifts for her children. "He was a nice old man," Andretta said. "It's terrible what they did to him." 

Andretta and Endicott said Villani and Carvalho used to leave Konvalinka alone for extended periods of time with little to no food. Andretta tried to bring Konvalinka meals; however, Villani discouraged Andretta from visiting Konvalinka. 

Endicott remembers going to High Street to check on Konvalinka after being unable to reach him on the phone. She found him locked in the house with the phone off the hook. Villani and Carvalho had left him there alone for a long weekend. 

"They had the legal authority," Endicott said. "They were completely in charge so they could do whatever they wanted." 

The situation was so concerning to those that knew Konvalinka that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services was alerted to a possible case of elder abuse, Endicott and Andretta said. It was investigated, but Konvalinka would not make an official statement, Andretta said. 

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said, due to issues of confidentiality, the department was not able to comment on whether it opened an investigation. 

"He was terrified of them (Villani and Carvalho)," Andretta said. "But he didn't want to leave his house." 

Konvalinka was eventually forced out of his house anyway. He was placed into an area nursing home - where he remains - as a MaineCare patient, with all of his assets from the Musical Wonder House collection placed in the trust controlled by Villani and Carvalho. 

"I'm grateful that he doesn't have the cognitive ability to understand what happened to his things," Endicott said. 

Everett did not witness the instances of neglect that Andretta, Endicott, and Baffer spoke of. From Everett's perspective, Villani and Carvalho were trying their best to keep the museum operational. 

However, in 2011, Villani died and Carvalho became the sole trustee in control of the Musical Wonder House's collection. According to Baffer, Carvalho was experiencing difficulty with immigration authorities in 2014 when he liquidated the collection, let the bank foreclose on the property, and returned to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Sold off

When the Musical Wonder House closed its doors in the spring of 2014, Everett lost his job of 31 years. Paid as an independent contractor, he received no benefits from his time there. 

Carvalho packaged the collection and liquidated it through various auction houses in Europe. Henderson saw many of the pieces of the collection he helped build advertised for sale through the Breker Auction House in Germany. 

"I lost everything," Henderson said. "Everything I had was in that collection." 

Some of the pieces Carvalho liquidated were not contained in the collection. They were antiques owned by private collectors that had been left with the Musical Wonder House for repairs. 

The Wiscasset Police Department was contacted in September 2014 about a music box that had been left at the Musical Wonder House. Baffer knew the music box's owners. According to Baffer, the antique music box was valued at $30,000 and is pictured in photos of Carvalho's home in Brazil that Carvalho shared with him. 

An informational report was filed by the police. However, Chief Troy Cline referred the music box's owners to a lawyer because he felt it was a civil matter. 

According to Cline, the music box had been left at the Musical Wonder House for approximately two years. 

"It's unfortunate that this business closed without notifying its customers and doing the right thing," Cline said. "I feel terrible for the victims. They lost a family heirloom. Due to the amount of time it was left there, though, I didn't think it rose to the level of a criminal complaint." 

The Lincoln County News attempted to reach Carvalho several times via his personal email and through other means but received no response. The Howard & Bowie law firm of Damariscotta, which helped Carvalho and Villani set up the Danilo Konvalinka Trust, declined to comment. 

"It's just heartbreaking," Endicott said. "I've been literally heartbroken about this. But for my own peace of mind I had to put it down and say at least the beautiful things in that collection are now scattered throughout the world." 

 

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