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 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 Boothbay Harbor, 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.
“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.
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.”