ABOUT :: FAQs
FAQs, Or, An Imaginary Conversation
Q Are you still working toward getting the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge named for Emperor Norton?
A Why, yes. Yes, we are. Much else besides!
(And answers to other of your burning questions about The Emperor's Bridge Campaign.)
Q But didn’t the California State Legislature name the Western crossing of the Bay Bridge — the section from Yerba Buena Island to San Francisco — for former State Assembly Speaker and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown?
A Yes, in late 2013.
But here's the thing: Even as the State of California recognizes "Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge" as the name of the Western crossing, the State also continues to recognize "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" as the name of the bridge as a whole.
In other words: For naming purposes, the State of California places (1) the constituent "spans" of the Bay Bridge and (2) the bridge as a whole on two separate planes. Which means that the naming of the Western crossing of for Willie Brown and the naming of the entire Bay Bridge system for Emperor Norton is not an either-or proposition — it can be both-and.
In effect, the Willie Brown name is a subtitle for the bridge. That subtitle can stay right where it is.
On the bridge-naming front, it’s the main title that is the focus of The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign.
Q So, the Campaign is not seeking to undercut Willie Brown or those who supported naming the West Bay Crossing for him?
A Not at all! The name of the bridge as a whole (main title) and the name of the bridge’s Western crossing (subtitle) each has its own place in the state's nomenclature for the bridge. The names are not in competition.
Indeed, we’d be delighted if those who supported the naming of the Western crossing for Willie Brown also supported the naming of the entire bridge for Emperor Norton (as Mr. Brown himself is reported to have done; see second item here).
Q Is the Campaign talking about a wholesale re-naming of the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton?
A Not necessarily.
For starters, what we call the Bay Bridge has never been officially named. "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" is an unofficial name.
Moreover, several state-owned bridges in California have multiple names — either two or more official names or a combination of official and unofficial names.
Given this precedent, an official naming of the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton need not replace the longtime unofficial name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge."
Indeed, we recognize that many people will continue to call this the "Bay Bridge" for years to come — and we think there are compelling historical reasons to allow that name to stand too.
Still, a name like "Emperor Norton Bridge" simply could be added and used in tandem with this unofficial name. Under a plan like this, the "Emperor Norton" name could be memorialized with a single prominent overhead highway sign on either end of the bridge and perhaps other such signs at a handful of key bridge approaches around the Bay Area.
In this scenario, the existing names for the bridge and its constituent parts, together with all existing highway signs for these names, would be left in place.
The Campaign is exploring the possibility of sponsoring (or co-sponsoring) a joint resolution in the state legislature that would seek to add the name "Emperor Norton Bridge" in 2018, the bicentennial of Emperor Norton's birth in 1818, or 2022, the 150th anniversary of the Emperor's Proclamations setting out the original vision for the bridge in 1872.
Q Sounds like the Campaign's bridge-naming project has a lot of moving parts. Where should folks go to learn everything there is to know about the project's history and its goals?
A Glad you asked! The project's "portal" at EmperorNortonBridge.org directs to the bridge-naming section of our Web site.
One also can reach this section by clicking on the tab "Name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton," at left. This opens up a drop-down menu with links to the project's main sub-pages.
Q How and when did The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign get started?
A In August 2013, San Francisco writer John Lumea published a Change.org petition to name the Bay Bridge as a whole for Emperor Norton. The petition has been covered by SFist, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, KQED and Laughing Squid, (among many others), and now has more than 5,900 signatures (and counting).
To capitalize on this energy and interest — and to carry forward the petition’s call — The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign launched in late September 2013.
Q What have you been up to since then?
A The Campaign quickly built out a broader cultural and historical mission that includes the bridge-naming project but that is organized around a variety of efforts — research, education, advocacy — to honor the life and advance the full legacy of Emperor Norton.
On the second Sunday of December 2013, at the historic House of Shields bar, we instituted the First Annual Tannenbaum Toast — a holiday party to celebrate the tradition that credits Emperor Norton with calling for the great Christmas Tree that is raised in Union Square every year (the first such public Christmas Tree in the country). We've returned to The House of Shields for Toasts on the second Sundays of December 2014 and December 2015, and are looking forward making it a fourth in 2016.
In 2014, the first calendar year after the Campaign launched in September 2013, we spent much of our time laying the groundwork to incorporate as a nonprofit — which we did in October 2014.
That year, we expressed our mission largely through public events that celebrated the Emperor's various Proclamations of 1872 setting out the vision for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
But already we had begun to think of our project to name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton as a vital "campaign within the Campaign" — a catalyst for a larger, more ambitious enterprise.
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In 2015, we identified a number of long-term Projects. We pushed forward with original research in a variety of areas (see our blog archive). And we began to offer a wider range of educational programming (including Chamber Talks and Field Talks) and commemorative gatherings — all of which you can find on our Events page.
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In 2016 and 2017, we continued research for our book of selected Proclamations of Emperor Norton — a project sparked by a seed grant from the San Francisco Historical Association.
We also built and developed online educational tools that illustrate our interest and expertise in both the Emperor's biographical history and his cultural legacy.
Our Emperor Norton Map of the World is an historically annotated and illustrated, chronologically indexed interactive map of places where Joshua Norton lived, worked and visited both before and after he declared himself Emperor.
ARENA, our digital ARchive of Emperor Norton in Art, Music & Film, shows the great variety of ways in which the Emperor has been taken up as a muse for art from 1861.
In July 2016, the Campaign was honored with the 2016 Ron Ross Founder's Award from the San Francisco History Association.
Q Why should the Bay Bridge be named for Emperor Norton?
A Two main reasons:
First: It was Emperor Norton who — with three Proclamations in 1872 — set out the original vision for the Bay Bridge.
Second: In the 1860s and 1870s, the Emperor was one of the earliest champions of the values of social diversity and the common good that were not common (much less legally guaranteed) at the time — but that came to be so strongly associated with San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area.
For example, he called for the testimony of the Chinese to be admitted in courts of law; for African Americans to be provided with equal access to public education and public streetcars; for the creation of a council of chiefs to publicly punish tribal agents who were exploiting Native Americans; and (intermittently) for women's right to vote.
To learn more about Emperor Norton, click here.
Q But isn’t Emperor Norton really a San Francisco figure?
A It’s true that the Emperor adopted San Francisco as the “seat” of his “empire.”
But he actually spent quite a bit of time in the East Bay.
A number of Emperor Norton’s Proclamations are datelined “Brooklyn” — Brooklyn, Calif., that is, the current-day East Oakland. He often spent a few months a year in Brooklyn — which he is said to have considered his “summer capital.”
The Emperor also made frequent visits to Berkeley, where he reviewed the cadets and attended lectures at the institution that originally was the private College of California and that in 1868 became the foundation for the new University of California.
At the end of the day, Emperor Norton had a heart for the Bay Area — for bridging the cities and towns that, in his day, were separated by the Bay. The Campaign to name the Bay Bridge for the Emperor is an effort to honor that spirit of unity.
Q Is The Emperor's Bridge Campaign solely about naming the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton?
A The bridge naming has been the Campaign's signature project — our "calling card," if you will.
But the naming project is an emblem of a larger mission that includes historical research and documentation; public education; cultural visioning; and advocacy related to the Emperor. The project is a "campaign within the Campaign" to enhance and preserve the memory and appreciation of the Emperor's life and legacy, more broadly considered.
The Emperor's Bridge Campaign seeks to be the leading public resource on Emperor Norton — and we are building out this vision by conducting and publishing original research (see our blog archive); offering educational and commemorative programming (see our Events page); and advancing longer-term Projects on a variety of fronts.
To advance our mission, the Campaign sponsors and supports a variety of efforts to ensure that Emperor Norton is even better-known and -loved in his adopted home of San Francisco and the Bay Area — and that he is embraced everywhere as a key herald and symbol of the spirit of progressivism, whimsy and humanity for which this city and region so long have been celebrated.
Q A-ha!!! So, "The Emperor's Bridge Campaign" is a kind of play on words, yes?
A Exactly! Inasmuch as Emperor Norton set out the original vision for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, it is the Emperor's bridge. This is a campaign to have the bridge recognized as such — and, in the process, to create an abiding reminder that the Bay Bridge is (and always has been) a single, unifying entity that is greater than the sum of its parts, or "spans."
At the same time, this is the Emperor's bridge campaign — an organized effort to preserve and enhance the legacy of Emperor Norton, in part by by highlighting all the ways in which the Emperor sought for people to be better connected to one another and to themselves, whether across lines of geography (he decreed a bay-spanning bridge); ethnicity and religion (he opposed racial discrimination and promoted religious tolerance); work (he advocated fair labor practices); or politics (he scorned the corruption of political parties and called for a League of Nations).
Q You folks are clever!
A Aw, thanks!
Q What about that proclamation censuring and imposing a penalty for use of the word "Frisco"? Did Emperor Norton really write that?
A It appears not.
Q Where is Emperor Norton buried? Is it possible to visit his grave?
A In 1934, as part of San Francisco's great cemetery eviction, the Emperor’s remains were moved from his original resting place in the city's Masonic Cemetery to Woodlawn Cemetery in the town of Colma, a few miles to the south of San Francisco. A public ceremony to mark the occasion included full civic and military honors and the placement of a new headstone.
Those who are inspired by Emperor Norton and his story make pilgrimages to his gravesite all year round — especially on or around 8 January, the anniversary of his death, which many recognize as Emperor Norton Day.
The red pin here marks the site of the Emperor's grave within Woodlawn cemetery. (Disregard the address on the pin.)
Q Does Emperor Norton have any surviving family members?
A As far as we know, the Emperor never had any children of his own — but several of his many siblings did. So far, the Campaign has been in touch with 15 of Emperor Norton's family members. Many of these are his 4x-great nieces and nephews. Most of them are in South Africa, where the Emperor moved (from England) with his parents and two brothers when he was two years old — and which remained a Norton family stronghold. Others are in Namibia, Australia, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago. One who was born in South Africa now lives in Washington State.
Q What are the Campaign's plans for 2016?
A There's a nice preview in our President's Letter published in December 2015.
Q How do I join the Campaign?
A We consider anyone who supports our mission and our vision to be a friend of the Campaign.
But we also encourage all of our friends to join the Campaign as an Emissary of the Empire. For only $35/year, Emissaries receive a special heavyweight collectible card that entitles them to admission to all of the Campaign's regular ticketed events for a full year. (Per-event admission to these events is $10.)
You can learn more here!
Q Can I make a financial contribution to the Campaign?
A You can indeed — right here!
Q What’s the best way to keep in touch with the Campaign’s progress and learn about upcoming events?
A Most important: Sign up here.
Q I’d like to contribute a viewpoint explaining why I think Emperor Norton is important and why I support the Campaign. Do you have an outlet for that?
A Yes! Our Perspectives series. If you have an idea for an “editorial” of 500-1,000 words; for a poem; or for a piece of op-art (graphic art, cartoon, photograph, video), please send us your proposal here, or drop a line to John Lumea at john@EmperorsBridge.org.
Q I’d like to become involved in the Campaign. I also have a suggestion or two (or five). How do I get in touch?
A We’d love to hear from you! Send us a note via the Campaign’s Web site.
Or drop a line to Campaign founder John Lumea at john@EmperorsBridge.org.