House of Bellaver

In this literary ghost story, an 1800s family surrounded by Shakespearean artifacts struggles with the aftermath of the son’s untimely death. Because it was home to a California governor, the Bellaver house is preserved as a museum more than a hundred years into the future. The modern-day director fights to save his job at the ailing facility, while the new docent, a Goth woman who claims to see spirits, wants to hunt down rumors that persist about the young Oliver Bellaver. The two team up to learn the truth in a novel about suffrage, familial betrayal, the uncomfortable gulf between masters and servants, how we remember history and preserve its objects—and whether we should.

This novel is set in a fictionalized version of Oakland’s Pardee Home, a house museum you can visit which is preserved intact with Victorian candlesticks and world treasures brought back by the globe-trotting Mrs. Pardee (in my novel, it’s the husband who travels).

This is a picture of George Pardee, mayor of Oakland and then California governor. He was in charge at the time of the 1906 earthquake and fire and did such an exemplary job of getting national funds to the destroyed city that he is known as the “earthquake governor.” In my novel, he’s fictionalized as Henry Bellaver.

Here’s a photo of how Oakland fared during that earthquake (much better!) In fact, Oakland’s population swelled as it took in refugees from across the bay, and many of them chose to never return.

Just a little damage to the top floor. Lucky Oakland.

Here’s another, the church whose tower toppled in the quake.

The First Baptist Church, near the Pardee Home. Today there is no steeple; the tower is simply squared off.

The main inspiration for this novel was learning about Governor Markham, who vetoed suffrage in 1893 after it passed the House and Assembly. It didn’t pass until 1911 in California and 1920 nationally. I conflated Governor Pardee and Governor Markham into my fictional character Governor Bellaver. Want to read about the real Markham? It’s a fascinating tale. He had five daughters and no sons, his wife was college educated, and he still didn’t favor suffrage. Creep! Here’s the link.

I’ll end with this family portrait of the Pardees and their four daughters.

Interested in reading House of Bellaver?