In 1891 the Zalud family, immigrants from Bohemia, built themselves an elaborate European-style mansion with a mansard roof, a style that was unique in the Californian city of Porterville at the time. John Zalud ran a successful saloon with a card room in the back, and his bets in some high-stakes card games paid off. But in 1912 their fortunes began to change.
The family endured an unlikely string of tragedies, and this sad history has been preserved in a small museum at the old house, which has long been rumored to be haunted.
The misfortune began when one of the Zalud children, Mary Jane, succumbed to a long bout of tuberculosis. Five years later, Anna’s husband William Brooke was shot in a hotel courtyard by a woman who had allegedly rebuffed his advances, causing him to spread defamatory stories about her. At the time of the shooting, he was sitting in a rocking chair, which is today preserved at Zalud House, bullet holes and all. Edward, the son of the house, who ran a bootlegging business during Prohibition, was thrown from his horse in 1922 and died from his injuries. The saddle he was using at the time of his accident also on display at the house.
After this devastating decade, the Zaluds spent most of their time away from the house, visiting occasionally to check on it. The last Zalud to live there was Pearle who moved back to spend the last decade of her life in her childhood home. She died in 1962 and she donated the house and grounds to the city, to be converted into a museum in memory of her parents.
The rumors of paranormal activity are never too far from a house with so many tragedies, and sure enough, reports of medicinal smells can allegedly be picked up in the house around the anniversary of Mary Jane’s death, rumored to be remnants of her prolonged illness. Haunted or not, the Zalud house is unique as the entire house is furnished with the family’s actual possessions, and walking inside is like taking a step back in time more than 100 years. In a part of California that has long since given way to urban sprawl and innumerable strip malls, the Zalud house offers a glimpse of what life was like in a previous age.