The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

TO HONOR THE LIFE + ADVANCE THE LEGACY OF EMPEROR NORTON

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"My Dear Lotta": Emperor Norton's Telegram to Lotta Crabtree

The California Historical Society has in its collection of Emperor Norton artifacts 14 telegrams.

Just as prankish newspaper editors of the day, especially Albert Evans of the Daily Alta California, took to writing and publishing "proclamations" of Emperor Norton — placing absurdities in the Emperor's pen that the Emperor himself never put to paper — telegraph operators got in on the game of filling out telegraph forms purporting to be signed messages from the Emperor.

A cursory examination of the 14 telegrams in the Society's collection suggests that most of them are fakes, for a combination of reasons: The subject matter is too improbable. The tone is too juvenile. And the handwriting — including the signature — doesn't match verified examples of letters and other documents written in the Emperor's hand.

But, the telegraph form shown below appears to be authentic. At The Emperor's Bridge Campaign's request, this form was exhibited at the California Historical Society as part of Will the Real Emperor Norton Please Stand Up? — the lecture and exhibit that the Campaign and the Society co-produced  on 1 February 2018 for the Campaign's EMPEROR NORTON AT 200 series to mark the 200th anniversary of the Emperor's birth on 4 February 1818.  

In the message, Emperor Norton commends Lotta Crabtree for the new fountain — long known as Lotta's Fountain — that she has commissioned as a gift to the City of San Francisco. And he bestows on Lotta an imperial title.

The fountain was dedicated on 9 September 1875. The telegraph form is dated "Oct 18th." Although the year is left blank, it seems reasonable to guess that the message is from 18 October 1875 — in the immediate wake of the dedication. 

Click to enlarge each image.
 

  Telegraph to Lotta Crabtree , 18 October, Emperor Norton telegrams and promissory notes, 1872–1879, undated, MS Vault 73, California Historical Society, MS-Vault-73_001a (front) and MS-Vault-73_001b (back).

Telegraph to Lotta Crabtree, 18 October, Emperor Norton telegrams and promissory notes, 1872–1879, undated, MS Vault 73, California Historical Society, MS-Vault-73_001a (front) and MS-Vault-73_001b (back).

 
My Dear Lotta,

Thousands Drink from your Fountain, it is a great public benefit. I shall be glad if you will accept the title of Lady of the Fountain in the Heraldry of Norton I.

Norton I Emperor
 

The form of address — "My Dear Lotta" — suggests that she and the Emperor were on familiar terms.

It's nice to think so. 
 

  Lotta's Fountain,  at Market, Kearny and Geary Streets, San Francisco, c.1880.  Source:  OpenSFHistory /wnp24.oo33a.jpg

Lotta's Fountain,  at Market, Kearny and Geary Streets, San Francisco, c.1880. Source: OpenSFHistory/wnp24.oo33a.jpg


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