An Empire of the Heart
The following is the latter portion of remarks offered by Emperor's Bridge Campaign founder and president John Lumea at the Campaign's inaugural celebration of Empire Day in San Francisco's Redwood Park on 17 September 2015. The event was held to mark the 156th anniversary of Joshua Norton's declaration of himself as "Emperor of these United States" on 17 September 1859 and to welcome the 157th year of the Nortonian realm and reign.
What Emperor Norton sought was an Empire of laws and governance.
What he got was an Empire of the heart that today proclaims itself in unofficial tributes of every kind:
- Communities from E Clampus Vitus to Discordianism to the Cacophony Society claim him as a patron saint.
- The Emperor has inspired music from the 1940s West Coast jazz of “Emperor Norton’s Hunch” to a variety of modern operas to a haunting track on San Francisco indie rocker Chuck Prophet’s 2012 album, Temple Beautiful, to a Boston-based experimental ensemble called Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band.
- The Emperor is depicted in public art all over the city, from the Palace Hotel to Tommy’s Joynt. And at Comstock, the saloon where we’re headed after we finish here, a sculpture of the Emperor presides over the main bar.
- There have been multiple, and ongoing, efforts to name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton — one area where there really oughta be a law.
- Raff Distillerie, on Treasure Island, produces the small-batch Emperor Norton Absinthe Dieu and Bummer & Lazarus Gin.
- There’s a documentary film in progress.
- This past spring, a new plaque honoring the Emperor was dedicated at Congregation Emanu-El’s Home of Peace Cemetery in Colma.
- A group of clandestine renegades calling themselves the Heirs of Norton has been putting up Emperor-themed plaques around the city.
- I’ve heard that you can get historical walking tours in the city from a guy who channels Emperor Norton in full imperial regalia [a line delivered tongue-in-cheek, as this Emperor was standing a few feet from Lumea as he spoke].
- And, of course, there are the Campaign’s own endeavors to honor the life and advance the legacy of the Emperor — a project we launched at a recently opened Tenderloin bar called Emperor Norton’s Boozeland.
So, this Empire of the heart that Joshua Norton founded is no less real than an Empire of laws would have been.
It seems to have proved more durable and long-lasting, too.
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There may be a clue about how it was all going to play out, right there in the first line of that original Proclamation [emphasis added].
At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens….
Any movement of desire is a movement of ideals that carries within it the potential to become a movement into the future.
The fact that Norton’s Empire took root in hearts rather than in laws — that it has become more an Empire of the spirit than an Empire of the letter — may go a long way toward explaining why his friends continued to help him in life and in death, and why we still honor him today; why we are here to celebrate the 156th anniversary of his original declaration — and to look forward to the 157th year of Norton’s realm and his reign.
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