In 1878, A Prominent Artist Numbers the Emperor's Days
In its first few years, the San Francisco-based magazine of satire founded as The Wasp in 1876 — modified to The Illustrated Wasp in January 1877 and, again, to The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp in September 1877 — frequently lampooned the Emperor.
Frequently, yes — but affectionately. The magazine's fondness for Emperor Norton was never in doubt.
On the eve of tomorrow's 137th anniversary of Emperor Norton's death in 1880 comes a poignant discovery.
For its 16 February 1878 issue, the magazine ran on its cover the following illustration — titled "There Was a Reaper, and His Name Was Death" — by its lead artist, George Frederick Keller (1846-1927).
The illustration depicts the Angel of Death — the Grim Reaper — trolling through a wheat field, with the figures of well-known people atop each sheaf. Some — at the Reaper's feet — have already been felled. Others are still standing — but tipping.
Note the beaver-hatted and beplumed gentleman immediately to the left of the Reaper's right hand.
In its note on the illustration, the Wasp wrote:
Browse the photographs of Emperor Norton from the early 1870s and those of him from 1878 and 1879 (in our gallery here), and one can't help but notice how much he aged in a relatively few years.
What Emperor Norton's being included in this cartoon would seem to tell us is that, in early 1878 — nearly two years before the Emperor's death — it already was being noted that nearly 20 years of days in the streets and nights in a boarding house bedsit had taken its toll on someone who — for all that — was no less regarded as one of "the princes and great ones of the earth."
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