The Emperor & His Widow
By the time José Sarria (1922–2013) was brought to Woodlawn cemetery, in Colma, Calif., in 1976, to visit the grave of Emperor Norton, he already was a legend. With his 1961 campaign for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Sarria — a very popular drag entertainer in the city — had become the first openly gay person to run for public office in the United States. In 1965, he had proclaimed himself "Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, José I, The Widow Norton" and had founded the Imperial Court of San Francisco, now the "mother court" of the Imperial Court system, a worldwide LGBT network of community service and charitable organizations.
Shortly after the 1976 visit to the Emperor's grave, Sarria purchased an adjacent burial plot and commissioned a headstone that was a mirror image of Emperor Norton's own rose-granite slab dedicated upon the Emperor's reburial at Woodlawn in 1934. (At left: The two headstones on Emperor Norton Day 2015, the 135th anniversary of the Emperor's death on 8 January 1880.)
The 1976 visit turned out to be the beginning of an annual pilgrimage, now one of the highlights of the Imperial Court year, which — until very recently — featured Sarria, "the Widow Norton," leading a procession to the graves of her and her "husband."
Three Sundays ago, on 15 February, a number of us from The Emperor's Bridge Campaign arrived at Woodlawn shortly after 8 a.m. — a crystal-clear morning — and attended the 40th anniversary of the pilgrimage, led with great elegance and humor by Imperial Council of San Francisco board member and Absolute Empress XXX, Donna Sachet.
Especially touching on the occasion were the keynote remarks of Rev. Lyle Beckman of the San Francisco Night Ministry, a nonprofit, founded in 1964, that "provides crisis intervention, counseling and referral services every night of the year."
In his remarks, Rev. Beckman highlighted the parallels between José Sarria, the Widow Norton, and Emperor Norton. Here is what he said:
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