Rev. Fitzgerald's Recollections
Did you know that Emperor Norton occasionally carried a Bologna sausage in his hip pocket?
That's the gospel truth, according to the Rev. Oscar Penn Fitzgerald (1829-1911):
According to The History of Southern Methodism on the Pacific Coast (1886), O.P. Fitzgerald, born in North Carolina, found his way to California in 1855 as a kind of "missionary" of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.
Fitzgerald was "stationed" for two years in Sonora and one year in San Jose, before moving to San Francisco in 1858 to take up the editorial reins of the Pacific Methodist, which had just been moved to San Francisco from Stockton.
Toward the end of 1858, Fitzgerald established, in his newly adopted city, a Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. For most of 1859, this congregation met at a Presbyterian Chinese chapel at the corner of Stockton and Sacramento Streets.
But in late 1859 — probably shortly after our Joshua Norton declared himself Emperor — the congregation began to rent a church on Pine Street, near Montgomery.
For the next several months, until a new minister could be formally assigned to the congregation, Fitzgerald helped to supply the pulpit.
It seems that, during this period, the Pine Street church was on Emperor's Norton's Sunday rotation — and that this provided the occasion for Fitzgerald and the Emperor to become acquainted.
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Fitzgerald remained in San Francisco until 1878, so he would have had ample opportunity to observe Emperor Norton for nearly the duration of the Emperor's reign.
Fitzgerald's richly detailed memories and reflections on the Emperor — including the "Bologna incident" quoted above — feature in his second book of California Sketches, a "New Series" of reminiscences published in 1881 as a sequel to an original set published two years earlier.
You can read Fitzgerald's empathetic, fondly remembered and exceptionally well-observed account of "The Emperor Norton" here.
The most frequently cited excerpt from Fitzgerald's account is the one in which he relates the Emperor's views on attending church. Fitzgerald seems to misremember the year when his own congregation started meeting on Pine Street, but...
Fitzgerald opens with one of the most vivid and evocative descriptions that we have of Emperor Norton's physical presence:
But some of Fitzgerald's most affecting passages are those that speak to the Emperor's quality of mind. For example:
And this elegant summary from Fitzgerald's introduction:
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On 3 September 1880, in the wake of Emperor Norton's death the preceding January, Mark Twain wrote to Atlantic Monthly editor William Dean Howells, who was both his (Twain's) own editor and his good friend. In the letter, Twain wrote:
The "pity," too, is that Twain himself seems never to have acted on his lamentation — not directly, anyway.
Thankfully, O.P Fitzgerald did — and in short order, while the memories remained fresh.
Fitzgerald's is a wonderful portrait. Read the whole thing.
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