The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

to honor the life + advance the legacy of Emperor Norton

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).
 

There Was a Reaper, and His Name Was Death, by George Frederick Keller. Cover illustration for the San Francisco Illustrated Wasp, V2 N81, 16 February 1878. Collection of the California State Library. Source: Internet Archive (click here for the full cover and to enlarge with greatest clarity). 

There Was a Reaper, and His Name Was Death, by George Frederick Keller. Cover illustration for the San Francisco Illustrated Wasp, V2 N81, 16 February 1878. Collection of the California State Library. Source: Internet Archive (click here for the full cover and to enlarge with greatest clarity). 


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:

The excellent cartoon which we present on the first page of this week’s Wasp illustrates in a striking manner the ravages of the king of terrors among the great ones of the earth. He has already felled Pope Pius IX, Victor Emanuel, Thiers, and a host of others, and is now sharpening his scythe for another coup. He is working in a rich field. Bismarck, MacMahon, Grant, Alexander, William, the Sultan, Francis Joseph, Queen Victoria, Hayes, Emperor Norton I, and other dignitaries can be recognized among the growing grain, ere many years to fall before the omnipotent hand of Time. Time levels all things, and, though we hope the days of all may be long in the land, we notice many of the princes and great ones of the earth already bowing to the inevitable stroke.

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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