TAMPA, Fla. – On her usual walk one recent Wednesday morning, Corey Jurgensen passed a gray bungalow, where two small quarantined boys sat on the porch. Their faces lit up.
“Daddy! Daddy! Come see,” they screamed. “There’s a unicorn outside!”
In an inflatable unicorn suit, Jurgensen, 40, waddled along, a hole for her face in the unicorn’s chest, the unicorn’s head bobbing side to side.
Jurgensen started walking around the historic Seminole Heights neighborhood dressed as a unicorn to boost spirits during this rough time – a sort of relief unicorn. And it worked.
“I do it when I can to give people a break,” she said, “and give them something to laugh about.”
People take out their phones to film as she passes, big smiles on their faces. She waves and keeps going, just shooting rainbows of joy.
It’s not easy being a mythical symbol of grace.
“I have to keep myself in a squat position,” Jurgensen said. For longer distances, she tucks her arms into the suit, so she doesn’t have to hold them up the whole time. On the side of the suit, a small fan blows air in from outside to keep it inflated.
But after 20 minutes of walking around, the costume turns into a sauna. About like being inside a baked potato. Sweat pools down in the ankles, especially when the temperatures are in the 80s.
This all started near Halloween, when Jurgensen went to Party City and bought the suit. Her inspiration: Squatty Potty Unicorn, the mascot for a toilet helper.
“I got it because I thought it was funny,” she said. With her black Labrador dressed as a mermaid, the Seminole Heights Unicorn made her first walk on Halloween. She wanted to get more than one use out of the suit, so she went out again on Christmas, then again on Valentine’s Day.
But people need her even more now. And she’s got nothing better to do.
Jurgensen works as a massage therapist, but her workplace has been closed for weeks.
“It’s hard to give massages from six feet away,” she said.
In the first week the state of Florida ordered non-essential businesses closed, the unicorn went out again.
Neighbors posted videos and pictures on social media, asking friends if they’d seen the mystery unicorn dancing down the sidewalk.
The neighborhood has always been quirky anyway. A few years ago, a prankster sent photos of a fake two-headed alligator to a local newspaper and the tabloid treated it like a real news item. For years, residents have reported sightings of “Wheelie Man,” an elderly biker with a frock of white hair who rides wheelies shirtless around the area. So a unicorn, while not exactly native, is also not entirely out of place in this part of Tampa.
Jurgensen has inspired at least two other inflatable unicorns, and now there’s a Seminole Heights Teddy Bear as well.
“I think it’d be funny if we all got together,” she said. Like an inflatable menagerie. She imagines something similar to the Beatles on the cover of Abbey Road, all crossing the street in a line.
Originally, the unicorn was for the kids, but Jurgensen noticed that the adults seem to need it more.
“The adults are more curious,” she said.
She stopped walking down Hillsborough Avenue, a busy four-lane road, because she almost caused a crash. Someone stopped to take a video, and the driver behind them almost didn’t notice, because they were staring too.
Jurgensen has lived in Seminole Heights for ten years. “The people are awesome,” she said. “They truly put the commune in community. We’re always helping each other out.”
When she’s ready to head back inside, Jurgensen unzips the suit from the front and the unicorn slowly deflates. Once, after undressing, Jurgensen walked back outside. She found a woman and her daughter looking for the fabled beast.
Jurgensen hustled inside and put the suit back on.
Asher Montgomery is a writer in Tampa, Florida.