The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

TO HONOR THE LIFE + ADVANCE THE LEGACY OF EMPEROR NORTON

RESEARCH • EDUCATION • ADVOCACY

Emperor Norton Plaque Restored; Site Eyed for Reinstallation at New Transbay Center

A well-known and fondly regarded Emperor Norton plaque created in 1939 most recently was installed at San Francisco’s old Transbay Terminal for 34 years — from November 1986 until the terminal was prepared for demolition in late 2010.

The weathered bronze plaque has been out of the public view for the last 8 years. But, recently, the plaque was lovingly restored — and plans are moving forward to reinstall the plaque at the new Transbay Transit Center.

Read on for a photograph of the plaque as most have never seen it — and for details on the location now being eyed for this rare and wonderful tribute to the Emperor.

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Emperor Norton Addressed the European Trade Crisis of 1870 With an Offer of Imperial Bonds

In October 1870, the Franco-Prussian War was headed into its fourth month. Emperor Norton was angry about the bloodshed and appealed both to Wilhelm, the future German emperor, and Bismarck to stop the fighting. The Emperor also was concerned about the war’s negative impacts on European trade. He stepped into this particular breach with a concrete solution.

To help illustrate what he had in mind, the Emperor sent an influential German publisher in Leipzig one of his new imperial notes, signed and made out to the publisher.

Presented here is evidence that the note reached its destination. If this note survives, it would be the oldest one in existence.

It’s a fascinating story.

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THE LONGEST PROCLAMATION? Emperor Norton at the Lyceum for Self-Culture

Virtually all of the published Proclamations of Emperor Norton were short — a couple of sentences; two or three very short paragraphs, tops — and virtually all originally appeared in newspapers.

Virtually all — but not all.

What appears to be the longest Proclamation by the Emperor — his verdict on the Beecher-Tilton affair, issued on 30 July 1874 and clocking in at 430 words — was published in Common Sense: A Journal of Live Ideas. This short-lived publication was a clearinghouse of information — reportage, commentary, lecture texts and letters — on "liberal" and "radical" writers, practitioners and societies of free thought and spiritualism, with a focus on the Pacific Coast.

One of the main societies covered in the pages of Common Sense was the Lyceum for Self-Culture, which met weekly at Dashaway Hall, on Post Street between Kearny and Dupont. Emperor Norton was a member and regular attendee of the Lyceum.

The full story — including the Proclamation and a rarely seen 1867 photograph of Dashaway Hall by Eadweard Muybridge — is on the flip.

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New Transbay Transit Center Is in Norton's Old Neighborhood

Most people who see a connection between Emperor Norton and the site occupied by the new Transbay Transit Center see the connection only in terms of a beautiful Bay Bridge-oriented commemorative plaque that the fraternal society E Clampus Vitus commissioned and dedicated in 1939 and moved to the old Transbay Terminal some fifty years later, in 1986.

In fact, the new transit center is just a few steps from the former sites of some of the most important properties owned and used between 1850 and 1855 by the "pre-imperial" businessman known as Joshua Abraham Norton.

This points to an opportunity: The transit center is situated in the midst of the oldest of Old San Francisco. How about a prominent feature in the Center that would direct visitors to historically significant sites that are within walking distance? How about putting a plaque or some other historical marker on all of these sites?

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Emperor Norton Makes the News at the German "Ladies Fair" of 1878

In March, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign stumbled upon an image of a handwritten note from Emperor Norton that had been sold at auction in October 2012. The manuscript was undated and was sold as such — but the note was addressed "to the Ladies' Fair of the German Benevolent Association." With this clue as a point of departure, we undertook to try to learn more about the note — including exactly when it was written.

We published our research postulating that the Emperor penned his note around the time of the Fair, which was held between 26 February and 5 March 1878.

In this follow-up, we present the image, original text and English translation of a German-language article from 2 March 1878 that appears to include a reference to the Emperor’s letter — which, it seems, was part of an “autographic album” of letters written to the “Ladies” of the Fair by a host of “scholars, artists and statesmen,” including then-President Rutherford B.Hayes.

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Time-Traveling With One of the Earliest Comic Illustrations of Emperor Norton

A wonderful illustration of Emperor Norton featured by the San Francisco Bulletin newspaper in 1913 and the California Review monthly in 1904 got its start as part of a triptych of “Prominent Men of San Francisco” drawn by George Frederick Keller (1846–1927) in c.1874, as the Emperor was reaching the height of his imperial influence and becoming a nationally known figure.

Not long after this, in 1876, Keller came to prominence as the chief artist of the new San Francisco Wasp, a position that briefly would earn him both fame and notoriety as one of the leading political cartoonists of his day.

The full story is in the flip — including high-resolution wonders that The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign is pleased to present online for the first time.

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Emperor Norton's Note to the Ladies of the German Benevolent Society

In early 1878, it appears, Emperor Norton penned a note "[t]o the Ladies Fair of the German Benevolent Association." When the item was sold at auction in October 2012, the auction house did not attempt to date it. But our research into the first 25 years of the German Benevolent Society, as it was called — a period that roughly paralleled the reign of the Emperor — points to the week of 27 February to 5 March 1878 as the specific moment when he reached out to say when he would be "glad to greet" these Ladies. Read on to learn more.

Also on the flip: A large, hi-res image of the Emperor's note, presented here for the first time anywhere online.

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"My Dear Lotta": Emperor Norton's Telegram to Lotta Crabtree

Of the 14 telegraph message forms in the California Historical Society's collection of Emperor Norton artifacts, most appear to be fakes written and signed by prankish telegraph operators. But, one appears to be authentic and in the Emperor's hand. It's a message from Emperor Norton to Lotta Crabtree, commending her on the recently dedicated fountain that she has commissioned as a gift to the City of San Francisco — and bestowing upon her the imperial title "Lady of the Fountain."

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The Itemized Bill for Emperor Norton's 1934 Reburial — And Who Paid It

In 1934, a group of members of San Francisco's Pacific-Union Club organized themselves as the Emperor Norton Memorial Association, for the purpose of overseeing the City-mandated reburial of Emperor Norton at Woodlawn cemetery, in Colma, Calif. The Association's goals were to (1) secure a burial plot; (2) have a new headstone made; (3) produce a public ceremony to dedicate the new grave and stone; and (4) raise the funds necessary to accomplish these goals.

Tucked inconspicuously into the Emperor Norton ephemera collection of the California Historical Society is an undated "Statement of Receipts and Disbursements," on Emperor Norton Memorial Association letterhead, that shows exactly how much money was raised; who gave what; and how the money was spent. 

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Setting the Record Straight on the Famous Emperor Norton Obit(s)

Emperor Norton died on Thursday 8 January 1880.

Time and time again, one reads that the San Francisco Chronicle was up the next morning with a dramatic front-page headline, "Le Roi Est Mort" ("The King Is Dead"), over a brief obituary whose signature passage began "On the reeking pavement, in the darkness of a moonless night under the dripping rain...."

It's a good story — but, it's not quite true.

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Herb Caen's "Norton Bridge" Campaign of 1947 (And the 1960 Letter from Berkeley That Watered the Seed)

Did you know that the longstanding call to name the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge after Emperor Norton traces part of its pedigree to legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen?

Exactly 70 years ago — in what may be some of the earliest published statements of the idea that a San Francisco Bay-spanning bridge should bear the name of the Emperor — Caen, with some persistence, called for a planned "second Bay Bridge" to be named the "Norton Bridge." 

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Write a Letter Today to Make It the Emperor Norton Bridge in 2018

Next year is the 200th anniversary of Emperor Norton's birth on 4 February 2018. And, we can't think of a better bicentennial birthday present than — finally! — naming the Emperor's bridge for the Emperor! 

But, making this a possibility means that three groups of people — (1) state legislators, the ones who would have to authorize "Emperor Norton Bridge" as a parallel / honorary name for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge; (2) those in local and state government and media who have influence with these elected officials; and (3) the close friends of all these people — need to hear from California supporters of the Emperor Norton Bridge naming — and hear from them a lot! — between now and early 2018.

To assist California supporters with this outreach, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign has prepared a model letter that includes all the key messages that the Campaign has been using to advocate on this issue.  

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The Most Respectful Directory?

Much is made of the parenthetical designation of "(Emperor)" that appeared after Joshua Norton's name in the San Francisco city directories compiled by Henry G. Langley. But there was another directory that went a good bit further in explaining exactly who it was that lived at 624 Commercial Street between Montgomery and Kearny.

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Emperor Norton, c.1871–72

A little more than half of the 17 extant photographs of Emperor Norton have reliable dates attached. In this context, "date" means year.

Armed with one historical lead, a good set of links to early San Francisco directories, some basic detective skills and a little patience, we set out to pin down the date of a well-known photograph of Emperor Norton that had no date.

We found it.

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