The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

to honor the life + advance the legacy of Emperor Norton

Herb Caen, Emperor Norton & "Frisco"

The 6 September 1995 entry from legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen (1916-1997) included the following note:

Such balderdash dept.: A front-page story in the Daily Afterblatt yesterday assured readers that two fugitives were arrested by two rookie cops in Berkeley because they said they were from Frisco, ‘the one word sure to identify them as tourists or rubes.’ The toughest guys on the old S.F. waterfront, neither rubes nor tourists, called it Frisco, and no effete journalist would have tried to correct them, either.

This amounted to a late-in-life recanting of the Frisco Doctrine from the person who widely is recognized as San Francisco's modern theologian of anti-"Frisco" orthodoxy.
 

Herb Caen in the 1940s. Source: San Francisco Chronicle.

Herb Caen in the 1940s. Source: San Francisco Chronicle.


Almost invariably, in fact, those who champion the Doctrine today cite two authorities, Caen and Emperor Norton — not necessarily in that order — to buttress their position.

For decades, the famous injunction levying a fine of $25 against anyone "heard to utter the abominable word 'Frisco'" has been attributed to Emperor Norton. And — although we've seen no evidence that he ever wrote or said anything of the kind — it seems to be taken for granted that Caen must have caught the ant-"Frisco" bug from the Emperor.

So it's worth noting that, in Caen's little essay, "Don't Call It Frisco," which introduces his 1953 book of the same name — i.e., in the one place where one would expect to see Caen making his bows to Emperor Norton on this subject — the Emperor never comes up.

The Emperor doesn't even make the index to the book.

Caen concludes his essay by writing, simply:

Don’t call it Frisco. Don’t ask me why. Just don’t.

More than than 40 years later, Caen revived "Don't Call It Frisco" as the title of a 3 March 1995 column that includes the passage most frequently cited today to sum up Caen's position:

It’s San Francisco. Old San Francisco. It looks its best — very old — in the rain, when gray ghosts flit across the wet sidewalks, leaving no shadow. Not Frisco but San Francisco. Caress each Spanish syllable, salute our Italian saint. Don’t say Frisco and don’t say San-Fran-Cis-Co. That’s the way Easterners, like Larry King, pronounce it. It’s more like SanfrnSISco, all one word minus a syllable.

But, again, no mention of the Emperor.

Herb Caen had his reasons for not liking "Frisco."

But perhaps they had very little to do with Emperor Norton.
 

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