The Emperor's Bridge Campaign



On the Road to the Emperor Norton Bridge, 1926–1932

Between 1926 and 1932, local, state and federal authorities in San Francisco; Oakland; California; and Washington, D.C., leaned in to an intense process for determining how best to create a transbay vehicular and rail bridge linking Oakland and San Francisco.

There were at least four major studies focusing solely on the bridge issue or, in one case, the bridge as part of broader regional transportation concerns.

Three of these studies — in 1926, 1927, and 1930 — included the specific location and route that Emperor Norton backed in 1872: Oakland to San Francisco via Goat Island, with a San Francisco landing at Telegraph Hill.

All three of these studies shortlisted two options that, between them, included these features: (1) direct connections between the traffic centers of Oakland and San Francisco; (2) a “hinge” at Goat Island (Yerba Buena Island); and (3) a San Francisco landing at Rincon Hill.

The 1930 study was the first to include an option that put all these features into one location and route — the one that eventually was built.

Read on for the Big Picture story of how it all came together — including the top-line maps, produced for these studies at the time, that illustrate the evolution of the design of the Emperor Norton Bridge.

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Lockhart & Porter, Undertakers and Casket Makers to the Emperor in 1880

The two book-length biographies of Emperor Norton, published in 1939 and 1986, mention “the undertakers” and “the undertaking rooms.” But, a blind spot in Norton studies has been that there was a specific firm — with a name and an address — that provided funeral and burial services for the Emperor, including manufacturing the oft-mentioned rosewood and silver-trimmed casket.

We know that the Emperor’s old friend, James G. Eastland, and friends of Eastland’s at the Pacific Club raised the money and made the arrangements — but, rarely mentioned is who was on the other side of the contract.

The obituaries didn’t name the firm. And, the name appears to have been mentioned only a couple of times by later writers — in 1946 and again in 1974. But, even these were only passing mentions.

Here, we rescue from obscurity the name and the early history of a business that played a crucial role in giving Emperor Norton a fitting farewell.

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Oofty Goofty Wore a Leather Pad in His Pants

Accounts of Emperor Norton often note that he is the most famous of a larger cast of Public Characters that peopled the streets of San Francisco during his lifetime.

But, with the exception of Frederick Coombs a.k.a. George Washington II, the biographical particulars of these Characters — legal names; dates of birth and death; and exactly when, and for how long, they were in San Francisco — often are left in clouds of ambiguity.

As it happens, one of the most famous Characters mentioned in connection with Emperor Norton didn’t even arrive in San Francisco until three or four years after the Emperor’s death.

Harvested from contemporaneous newspaper accounts, this timeline of five of the Characters most often associated with Emperor Norton — The Money King; George Washington II; The Great Unknown; The King of Pain; and Oofty Goofty — fills in many biographical blanks and finds surprising new details about the careers of these legendary figures.

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Emperor Norton & Denis Kearney, Together in 1879 — On the Back Cover of The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp

Emperor Norton and the fear-mongering, violence-inciting demagogue Denis Kearney were on opposite sides of California’s “Chinese question.” But, in December 1879, the two men were depicted together on the back cover of The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp, in a cartoon by George Frederick Keller.

The cartoon spoke volumes about the Emperor’s moral stature.

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Emperor Norton Days, 1989

Exactly 30 years ago — in mid-July 1989 — there was a big carnival in Civic Center Plaza, San Francisco. There was a midway with games. Some 25 “giant” rides. Sideshows. Food. There were concerts at night.

This was a big deal! It was called Emperor Norton Days.

The carnival was slated for Thursday 13 July to Sunday 16 July 1989 — but, it was so popular, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors granted an extension for the following weekend, from Thursday the 20th to Sunday the 23rd.

Although there were plans for a second Emperor Norton Days, in July 1990, it appears that the carnival might have had only the one run, in 1989.

Were you there?

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Chief Crowley Releases a Sword

On 16 February 1880 — a little more than a month after Emperor Norton’s death on 8 January — the San Francisco Board of Supervisors conveyed the Emperor’s main personal effects to the Society of California Pioneers.

San Francisco Police Chief Patrick Crowley, who famously had released the Emperor from jail in January 1867 — the morning after an overzealous member of the police auxiliary had falsely arrested the Emperor on bogus charges of vagrancy and lunacy — had one more item to add to the Pioneers’ new collection of Imperial artifacts.

The Police Department had been holding on to it for 15 years.

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A REAL GONE BRIDGE: Judy Garland's 1959 Remake of "San Francisco" Turns 60

Sixty years ago today — on 1 July 1959 — Judy Garland started an 11-night stand at the War Memorial Opera House, in San Francisco.

During this stand, Garland introduced a transformative new version of the 1936 song “San Francisco.”

The song had been written and composed for her by her longtime accompanist, musical director and mentor, Roger Edens.

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An Early Pro-Immigrant Proclamation from the Immigrant Emperor

An abiding concern of Emperor Norton was for the welfare of immigrants. The Emperor issued numerous Proclamations and took other actions in the defense and support of specific immigrant communities — notably, the Chinese, German and French.

More broadly, Emperor Norton wanted to ensure that the basic needs of arriving immigrants be met. This included his determination that cash-poor immigrants have enough money to get started in their new country.

His concern for the financial security of immigrants was evident at least as early as November 1867, when he issued a brief Proclamation that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

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When a Veteran Rocker’s Great Great Grandparents Hosted Emperor Norton at Their Sonoma Valley Ranch

He’s a two-time Grammy Award winner — for co-writing “After the Love Is Gone” (Earth, Wind & Fire) and “Turn Your Love Around” (George Benson).

As a solo artist, he had his own minor hit in 1981 with “Sara.”

In the 1970s and ‘80s, he was one of the most in-demand backing vocalists in Los Angeles, appearing on hundreds of recordings, including by: Elton John, Al Jarreau, Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, The Tubes, Patti LaBelle, Neil Diamond, Donna Summer, Barry Manilow, Kim Carnes, Kenny Rogers and on and on

His cover of the 1967 Ray Charles tune, "In the Heat of the Night,” was used as the opening theme for the television series that ran from 1988 to 1995.

For nearly 30 years, from 1981 to 2009, he was a member — and was instrumental in the rebirth — of one of the best-known and longest-running bands of all time.

And, he is widely recognized as being one of the best vocalists in rock.

But, it was his great-great grandparents who had the real connections in the family.

Read on for the whole story.

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Emperor Norton & The Great Unknown: Two Eccentrics Meet in a Rare Illustration from 1871

By the time Max Cohnheim arrived in San Francisco in 1867, at around age 41 — Cohnheim had immigrated to the United States in 1851 — he already was a noted German-language writer, editor, playwright and sometime actor of political satire.

On 17 June 1871, Cohnheim debuted his latest satirical magazine, the San Francisco Humorist. The inaugural issue featured a comic illustration of the Emperor Norton conferring with another well-known street character of the day — a dandy who styled himself The Great Unknown.

It seems likely that the Emperor and the Unknown at least would have been acquainted with one another.

Read on to learn more about the Great Unknown and to see this early illustration of Emperor Norton — an illustration, drawn during the Emperor’s lifetime, that probably has lain in obscurity for decades and probably has seen by very few people at all since it first was published nearly 150 years ago.

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Emperor Norton's Hunch: "Lu Watters Original" or Variation on an Earlier Theme?

Many who follow Emperor Norton are fond of a Dixieland revival tune, “Emperor Norton’s Hunch,” that was performed, recorded and popularized in the late 1940s by Lu Watters and his Yerba Buena Jazz Band.

For decades, Lu Watters has been credited as the composer of the song. But, on a 1950 album released by Watters and the band, the composer credit went to someone else.

Getting under the surface of that exception suggests that, perhaps, Watters is not the original composer of “Emperor Norton’s Hunch” but is better understood as an arranger who produced a variation on an existing theme — and who also, in this case, was a self-promoter who was able to brand himself as the composer simply by being the first to say so in a public, official way, gambling that the risk of a serious challenge was low.

Read on to learn the fascinating story of the sometime composer Wilbur Watkins Campbell — and about why there is reason to believe that the roots of “Emperor Norton’s Hunch” lie in an earlier work by him.

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Emperor Norton's Tour of 1864

By the time the calendar opened on 1864, Emperor Norton was a well-known presence in San Francisco, as well in Oakland and Berkeley. And, he had begun making excursions to Sacramento.

But, it appears that the Emperor had yet to set foot in outposts of his Empire further afield.

Between mid February and mid March 1864, he remedied this with two royal junkets in quick succession — the first, to Marysville and Oroville; the second, to Petaluma.

Of course, the newspapers both at home and “abroad” were only too happy to cover these visits.

Read on for the whole story — and for rarely seen photographs of a couple of the hotels where Emperor Norton stayed when he visited these places.

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Emperor Norton at Madame Pique's

In his original Proclamation of 17 September 1859, Emperor Norton summonsed “the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of February next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.”

Alas, Musical Hall was destroyed in a fire on 23 January 1860 — just a week before the appointed date.

The Emperor quickly rescheduled his meeting, issuing a Proclamation on January 28th revising the date and the venue to “the 5th day of February next, in Assembly Hall, on Kearny street, of this city.”

This is the secret history of the would-be site of Emperor Norton’s national convention of February 1860 — and of the woman who gave the building its original name.

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Campaign Receives Major Pledge to Help Fund Limited-Edition Compilation Album of "Emperor Songs"

On the eve of a crowdfunding campaign in support of its project to produce a compilation album of “Emperor songs” — songs about, or in some way inspired by, Emperor Norton — the Campaign has received a pledge of $3,000 for the project — which represents one-half of the projected $6,000 needed to pay for all costs associated with producing and distributing the album, including engineering, design, vinyl pressing, shipping materials and postage.

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In the Wake of the Emperor’s Death, A Literary Tribute and a Woodcut Illustration Appears in Illinois

Richard D. Faulkner — of Bodega, in Sonoma County, Calif. — was an 1877 graduate of Illinois Industrial University, now known as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While at the university, Faulkner was the business manager of the student newspaper, The Illini.

In its March 1880 number — two months after the death of Emperor Norton — The Illini published Faulkner’s literary profile-in-tribute to the Emperor, including Faulkner's memories of having met the Emperor several times on an earlier trip to San Francisco.

The profile was accompanied by a lovely new woodcut illustration of the Emp.

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Emperor Norton, Friend of Immigrants

In April 1875, Emperor Norton issued one of his most important Proclamations on the welcome, sympathy, assistance, protection and care of immigrants.

Thirty years later, in September 1908, this Proclamation was bumped to the top of the pile, when the Emperor’s portraitist Addie Ballou included it — unsourced — in a brief memoir of her experience of the Emperor that she wrote for the San Francisco Call.

Alas, the Proclamation has languished in unmentioned obscurity for most of the last 110 years — not least, because it has not been publicly sourced and documented as authentic.

This, we do here.

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"To Dream of the Emperor Norton"

In January 1865 — back in his native New York for a year, after spending the previous five years in San Francisco — David Montross Gazlay debuted a new magazine that he called Gazlay’s Pacific Monthly. The purpose of the magazine was to evangelize an East Coast readership as to the virtues — and the opportunities — of the Pacific states and territories.

The inaugural issue of the Pacific Monthly featured a reprint of a charming item of literary humor originally published elsewhere — apparently in the early 1860s — and which includes a poignant reference to Emperor Norton.

As it happens, Gazlay and the Emperor had occasion to meet in February 1861, when both men attended a citizens’ meeting — called by San Francisco Mayor Henry Teschemacher — to plan a major pro-Union rally.

Click below for the whole story.

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