New Life for an 1879 Drawing of Emperor Norton
We'll come to the drawing shortly.
But the occasion for the drawing is significant on its own.
Pull up a chair, won't you?
With the lengthy obituaries that attended his passing on 8 January 1880, Emperor Norton had more newspaper column inches paid him in death than on almost any single day of his life.
Of course, the papers often published his Proclamations; but these rarely were more than a short paragraph or two long. And, outside of this, any newspaper mention of the Emperor tended to be a passing reference in an article about something else — or a humorous filler item of a sentence or two.
So, it's noteworthy that, on 9 November 1879 — almost exactly two months before Emperor Norton died — the San Francisco Chronicle devoted nearly a full column-and-a-half to a Sunday front-page profile of him.
There is no byline. But the Chronicle writer makes clear that the profile is based on an interview with the Emperor himself — and that the interview was conducted in the very sanctum sanctorum, the Holy of Holies, the imperial chambers of the imperial palace that was the Eureka Lodgings, on Commercial Street between Montgomery.
It's a sharply observed and fascinating read. To see the profile as it originally appeared in the Chronicle, click here.
The profile is all the more significant for being based on an interview conducted so near the end of the Emperor's life — and, indeed, for the apparent access granted the writer, who notes:
Norton I, with a condescension which is, perhaps, uncommon among the thrones of Europe, speaks freely with the interviewer. An audience may be had of him at the shortest notice, and in any convenient locality. The court of the Palace Hotel and the corner grocery store are alike to him. The vicissitudes of sixty years have torn from him old prejudices in favor of formality. Yet he is as courteous as he is affable, an illustrious example which his royal cousins might follow without endangering their prospects in the world to come.
An "audience," perhaps — but an audience like this? Surely, if there had been other interviews of this kind, done in the Emperor's own digs, we'd have seen them written up on other front pages during the years of his reign.
No, this seems a rarity — made even more special by the lovely illustration that the Chronicle created to accompany the profile.
This drawing — of a gentle Emperor, with walking stick and umbrella (but no sword) — was reproduced in Allen Stanley Lane's 1939 biography, Emperor Norton: The Mad Monarch of America.
But, since then — for nearly 80 years, it appears — the original drawing has languished.
So, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign has had a new photographic print of the drawing made from a photo negative at the California State Library.
Isn't it wonderful?
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