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.

Watch the Events tab for more details and online ticketing for an event I’ll be hosting at the Pardee Home on Friday, October 27, 6-9 p.m., in which I’ll talk about the Pardees, the Bellavers and even Lizzie Borden (the tie-in is that the Borden house is a museum just as the Pardee home is). The tentative title for the event is “Two House Museums, Three Murders” and will involve a slideshow lecture with images of both homes, a chance to walk through the Pardee Home, a book launch for both novels, and light refreshments. Should be good fun!

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