The Emperor's Bridge Campaign



2015 IN REVIEW: Reaching Into Our Mission (President's Letter)

Dear Friends,

The mission of The Emperor's Bridge Campaign, embodied in our tagline, is "to honor the life and advance the legacy of Emperor Norton."

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, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign began to explore the contours of this enterprise.

We identified a series of long-term Projects of historical / cultural documentation and advocacy.

And we began to research and highlight lesser-known aspects of the Emperor's story. (For a complete list of links to the Campaign's research and commentary that we published on our blog in 2015, click here.)

  • Building on research that we undertook in late 2014, we published a series of articles and a hosted a major public event (a Chamber Talk and 197th birthday party) in February presenting our original findings about Emperor Norton's birth date — findings that challenge the conventional wisdom of an 1819 birth date and point instead to a date of 4 February 1818;
  • We inaugurated our Field Talk series of site-specific "historical walking tours without the walk" with a March event, also based on our original research, detailing the history of the block of Commercial Street, San Francisco, where the Emperor lived from 1863 until his death in 1880;

  • We held another Chamber Talk in October that looked at Emperor Norton's career in Oakland and Berkeley, where he visited every week.
At  The Emperor's 197th Birthday , a special Emperor's Bridge Campaign event at 518 Valencia in February, Campaign president John Lumea discusses the Campaign's research pointing to a birth date of 4 February 1818 for Joshua Norton.

At The Emperor's 197th Birthday, a special Emperor's Bridge Campaign event at 518 Valencia in February, Campaign president John Lumea discusses the Campaign's research pointing to a birth date of 4 February 1818 for Joshua Norton.

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In August, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign was gratified to receive a seed grant from the San Francisco History Association to research and publish a book of selected Proclamations of Emperor Norton.

To learn more and help fund this project, click here.

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On the commemorative front, the Campaign instituted Empire Day, a new holiday to celebrate Joshua Abraham Norton's declaration of himself and his Empire on 17 September 1859.

For the inaugural holiday, we welcomed a great crowd to Redwood Park, adjacent to the Transamerica Pyramid — and directly across the street from the former site of the upstairs offices of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, where Norton delivered his original Proclamation.

Earlier in the year (in April), we took the Campaign to San Francisco's Comstock Saloon, where we hosted a special Happy Hour for our friend Julie Driver — the Emperor's 4x-great niece — who was visiting from Ontario.

And in May, we helped to sponsor a new plaque for Emperor Norton at Home of Peace in Colma, Calif., the cemetery of Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco, where the Emperor attended synagogue every Saturday.

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign helped to sponsor this new plaque, dedicated in May at Home of Peace in Colma, Calif., the cemetery of Congregation Emanu-El, in San Francisco, where Emperor Norton attended synagogue. The plaque was an independent project of Judi Leff, who is an Advisor to the Campaign.

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign helped to sponsor this new plaque, dedicated in May at Home of Peace in Colma, Calif., the cemetery of Congregation Emanu-El, in San Francisco, where Emperor Norton attended synagogue. The plaque was an independent project of Judi Leff, who is an Advisor to the Campaign.

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The Emperor's Bridge Campaign continued to receive press coverage in 2015. In August, we were featured in a front-page Wall Street Journal article surveying the variety of Emperor-themed projects and businesses that have sprung up in San Francisco over the last few years.

The Journal noted that the Campaign has "the boldest efforts on behalf of the Emperor."

The same month, the San Francisco news site Hoodline published a wonderful profile of the Campaign's major fund-raising initiatives this year:

  • a limited-edition Campaign t-shirt featuring a rarely seen 1939 illustration of Emperor Norton; and
  • a benefit walking tour led by Emperor Norton, played our good friend Joseph Amster of Emperor Norton's Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine. 

We funded production of the t-shirt via a Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $3,200 — three times more than we asked for! When all was said and done, we had nearly $1,000 left to put back into the Campaign's programs. The tour was popular too, and raised an additional $800 for the Campaign.

Thank you!

By the way: We still have a few of the t-shirts available in nearly all sizes and styles (Unisex and Women's). But they won't last much longer — so, catch yours while you can right here!

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Along the way in 2015, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign continued to carve out its place within the larger constellation of organizations, projects and individuals dedicated to exploring the Bay Area's history and advancing its culture.

We tabled and told the Campaign's story at three events that brought together many of these groups and people — enabling us to make new friendships and nurture existing ones with those whose interests overlap our own:

  • the 5th Annual San Francisco History Expo, at the Old Mint;
  • a Mechanics' Institute open house hosted by the Bay Area Heritage Exchange; and
  • the history fair at the annual meeting of the Conference of California Historical Societies.

And we appointed four Advisors to the Campaign who are respected leaders in these communities:

  • Charles Fracchia Founder of the San Francisco Historical Society and President Emeritus of the San Francisco Museum & Historical Society
  • John Law Co-Founder of the Cacophony Society, Burning Man and the Billboard Liberation Front
  • Judi Leff Director of Arts & Cultural Programs at Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco
  • Ron Ross Co-Founder and President of the San Francisco History Association


In the coming year, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is eager to reach even further into our mission of advancing the legacy of Emperor Norton.

This includes keeping faith with the project that helped to launch the Campaign in 2013.

Over the last several months, we've been floating to decision makers and other interested folk our thoughts about using the state ballot initiative process (rather than the Legislature's non-binding resolution process) to name the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton, who set out the vision for the bridge in 1872.

This take-it-to-the-people campaign, as we've outlined it, would not seek to change or remove any existing name(s) for the Bay Bridge or its constituent parts.

In fact, there are a number of state-owned bridges that bear multiple names. The idea would be to build on this precedent, with the goal of simply supplementing the unofficial "Bay Bridge" name for the bridge as a whole with an official name along the lines of "Emperor Norton Bridge."

This idea has been well-received. So we'll be pushing it forward this year, with the hope of sponsoring (or co-sponsoring) a state ballot prop to name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton in 2018 — the year of the Emperor's 200th birthday!

If you know of anyone who can be helpful with legal/political advice, connections or (yes, this will cost a lot of) money, do let us know or have them to contact us.

The Emperor Norton Bridge. Photograph  ©      Jeru Banez.

The Emperor Norton Bridge. Photograph © Jeru Banez.

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In the meantime, we'll continue to work on our book of selected Proclamations, which — depending on funding — we hope to publish this year.

Related to this project, we plan to produce a Chamber Talk focusing on those Proclamations that are less frequently cited as part of the received history of Emperor Norton — including those on civil rights, human dignity and religious unity.

Building on research we did this year, we'll offer a Field Talk at the site of two hotels where Joshua Norton lived before moving into the Eureka Lodgings, his imperial palace at 624 Commercial Street.

 And we'll continue to seek out opportunities to do original research that brings the public's picture of the Emperor into sharper focus. 

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Our Advisor, John Law, calls Emperor Norton a cultural touchstone. Indeed, the Emperor is a kind of mirror or prism. And what one sees reflected or refracted through his image can say as much — or more — about the one holding the glass as it does about the Emperor himself.

Committed as The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is to deepening the public's understanding of the life that Joshua Norton lived from 1818 to 1880, we also are interested in how his legacy has played out in the 135 years since.

From the beginning, the Campaign has used Facebook and Twitter to share Emperor-themed art and music.

We hope to push this forward in 2016 by hosting a panel discussion involving artists and musicians for whom Emperor Norton has been a muse.

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Also for your watch list: The Campaign is working with a number of organizations to produce a Spring bike ride and picnic inspired by Eadweard Muybridge's fabulous 1869 photograph of Emperor Norton on a velocipede. Stay tuned for details!

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Of course, we'll gather once again for the three holidays that are emerging as Campaign traditions: the Emperor's birthday (4 February), Empire Day (17 September) and the Fourth Annual Tannenbaum Toast, on the second Sunday of December (the 11th).

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Something else new for the coming year: The Emperor's Bridge Campaign now invites you to...

Join the Campaign as an Emissary of the Empire.

Each Emissary receives a special heavyweight collectible card that entitles the cardholder to admission to all of the Campaign's regular ticketed events for the 2016 calendar year. (Standard admission is $10 per event.)

And there's no better time to become an Emissary! The regular price will be $45. But we're introducing this new program for just $35 through the end of January 2016.

Learn more — and join — by clicking here!


We're so very grateful to all who have supported The Emperor's Bridge Campaign over the last couple of years — by...

  • supporting our fundraisers;
  • attending our events;
  • signing up for our newsletter;
  • engaging with us on social media;
  • reading our blog; and
  • spreading the good word!

Of course, the greater our financial resources, the more quickly we'll be able to build out the "full concept" of the Campaign outlined here.

And the more flush our coffers, the easier it will be for the Campaign to do the kind of intelligent near-term planning and development that are worthy of our vision to become the leading public resource on Emperor Norton.

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is the only nonprofit whose sole mission is to honor the life and advance the legacy of Emperor Norton.*

As we look forward to the New Year, we hope you will be inspired to support our work with a generous donation.

And, as always: Tell all your Emperor-saluting friends about us!

Thank you so much.

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Of course, every successful start-up needs a core team that provides one another and the organization with moral and practical support; wise counsel; and guidance through waters that aren't always clear — and that champions the organization's cause in the public sphere.

I am fortunate and grateful to be joined in this Noble Endeavor by six other Board members who I am honored to call my friends: Kristian Akseth, Aaron Almanza, Joseph Amster, Mark Hogan, Sabine Luisi and Devin McCutchen.

We look forward to seeing you all — and to further expanding the Campaign's ranks and its reach — in 2016!

JOHN LUMEA, President
The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

* In order to optimize our ability to advocate for legislation to name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is organized as a 501(c)(4). Contributions are not tax-deductible.

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