TAMPA — The mystery started when the white house turned black.
Starting a year ago, the eight-room house on a prominent stretch of Nebraska Avenue sat among brighter bungalows, a lone raven. Black siding, black chimney bricks, black awnings and a new, black roof.
Neighbors wondered about it. A neighborhood kid thought a witch lived inside.
The owner was not a witch, but a 41-year-old estate planning attorney named Rose Wilson. She pulled up to give a rare tour of the 75-year-old building this week in a black Mercedes with black, tinted windows. She wore an all black suit and black heels that matched her straight black hair.
It’s her favorite color.
"I really need to get a black cat," she said. Her current cat, Pig, is all white and presents a fur "nightmare" for a person like her.
The Ladies Heights Happy Hour networking group meets across the street at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe. Over drinks, they discussed the house.
"It definitely stands out," said Ellie Baggett, who organizes the group. "Lots of people around here ask, ‘What the hell is that?’?"
What neighbors can’t tell from the outside is that most of the inside is black too — some walls are "pacific sea teal," a dark green that might as well be black — and that Wilson has filled this black void with an array of oddities that are either amusing or chilling.
Wilson led the tour through the kitchen, past a table full of headless or hollow-eyed dolls and a chrome dental phantom with its jaw affixed in a permanent scream. She entered the dining room, with a several-hundred-year-old oak dining table and elaborate chairs upholstered in green velvet, across from a bell jar filled with tiny doll furniture.
A favorite piece, a 100-year-old wooden wheelchair in the corner, reminds her of one that chases a woman in the 1980 horror movie The Changeling.
Wilson, a lawyer and shareholder in the firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, has spent the last year filling nearly every inch of the place with old medical devices, taxidermy animals, bones, crucifixes and vintage furniture and artwork that feels equally dark.
She doesn’t live in the house, which is zoned for commercial use, but lives in Seminole Heights. She calls the home Margoza’s Galleon. A skeletal pirate sculpture and other details, such as sea shells preserved in resin at the edge of some decaying stairs, add to the vibe of a sunken pirate ship.
Wilson has a mild smile and demeanor, and answers questions with the kind of considered precision you’d expect from someone who navigates complex tax code for high net worth clients. She downplays her own fascination with her creepy items, but obviously enjoys the reactions of others.
"I’m trying to remain a bit of a mystery, though," she said.
The other lawyers at the firm know her as an excellent attorney, meticulous, pleasant, and reserved. So it took them by surprise when they visited the home for a party Wilson hosted.
"It shed a whole new light on her as a person, and gave me an appreciation for how multifaceted people can be," said Heather Brock, a partner at the firm. "The way she’ll take a fossilized beetle and pair it with something else and make something beautiful. She’s got a great eye for design."
Wilson procures some items via the Internet, such as a framed tonsil guillotine, a 19th century surgical device for curing chronic sore throats, in the reading room. Many items she constructs, like a box containing a blood-splattered, nail-impaled voodoo doll on an upstairs coffee table.
The squirrel’s tail suspended in a jar of liquid was found, sans squirrel, in the back yard. A wooden staff with a stoic face that sits near a 200-year-old family Bible presided over by a headless angel came from a Tampa botanica.
Upstairs, antique bird cages sit empty inside a window. Sometimes, the berries on the huge mulberry tree outside ferment and drunken birds fly into the windows and die.
"It’s really sad," Wilson said.
She’s spent several thousand dollars on the collection, she estimates, but "not a crazy amount." Apparently, you can get rooster feet to hang above an altar pretty cheap on eBay.
Margoza’s Galleon is also the name Wilson does business under when she occasionally sells some of her macabre creations at local weekend markets. She has a Facebook page and margozas.com.
She had long been a fan of horror films such as Alien and Poltergeist, stuff her dad let her watch while growing up in Orlando. By elementary school, she’d taken to wearing black and hanging out with the "nerds." She wore black lipstick as a teen. She liked the Dark Tower series by Stephen King.
But in high school she set much of that aside. She was focused on academics, and went on to get a master’s in accounting, which led her to tax law. After law school at the University of Florida, her job became all consuming, even on weekends, leaving her little time for hobbies until recently.
The girl with goth leanings found herself a single woman with money, time and a need for a creative outlet.
"Then it was really a Field of Dreams thing. It just got into my head. You must build it."
Around the same time, she bought the house as an investment. She found oddities online and spent weekends traveling the state to thrift stores and antique shops, painting, crafting and doing renovations.
The house is not open to the public. Wilson has occasionally allowed small, local groups to use Margoza’s Galleon for meetings.
After attending the Ladies Heights Happy Hour, Wilson let them host a party there. A Halloween party.
"A lot of people showed up for that one," said Baggett. "Part of the pitch was to say, ‘I know you’ve always wondered what’s inside.’ A lot of people came just to see what was in there. It’s fun for people to be able to say they’ve been inside."
Others have asked if they could get married there.
Wilson hesitates to say if she’ll turn the house into an event space. The house is full, so now it’s on to filling up the black garage.
She’s in the market for a good lobotomy stool.
Contact Christopher Spata at [email protected] Follow @spatatimes on Twitter.