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TO HONOR THE LIFE + ADVANCE THE LEGACY OF EMPEROR NORTON

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Emperor Norton's Note to the Ladies of the German Benevolent Society

  Ad for German Benevolent Society events surrounding the laying of the cornerstone of the German Hospital ,  Daily Alta California , 25 August 1857.  Source:  California Digital Newspaper Collection .

Ad for German Benevolent Society events surrounding the laying of the cornerstone of the German Hospital, Daily Alta California, 25 August 1857.  Source: California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Please forgive a long introduction.

On Christmas Eve 1853, there appeared on page 2 of the Daily Alta California newspaper something on the order of a manifesto. The item, which had 44 signatures attached, carried the lengthy title "Address to the Germans in California on the Subject of An Association to Encourage Immigration and to Aid Immigrants."

The address called for the "establish[ment] in San Francisco of a German Benevolent Society for the aid and support of immigrants to this part of the Pacific Coast." The goals of such a Society would be:

(1) "[t]o assist every immigrant arriving at these shores, as his case may require it," including "[t]o see him righted  in case any wrong has been done to him or them during the voyage";

(2) "[t]o give attention to the passenger transportation in the interior" of the state; and

(3) "[t]o keep communication...with other German benevolent societies, and the emigrant societies in Germany."


Sixteen months later, in the 26 April 1855 issue of the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper, a tiny item appeared on the bottom of page 2, informing  readers that "[t]he San Francisco German Benevolent Society are to erect a hospital and furnish furniture therefor."

On 29 August 1857, a Saturday, the Society laid the cornerstone for their new hospital, which was to be on Brannan Street between Third and Fourth. The next day, there was a "grand festival" in Russ Garden to raise more money for the project.  A ball was held in the evening.

The Society appears to have held its first such "festival" — these were public events — in August 1855. By 1859, the Society's fund-raising festivals had become an annual affair held every May. The ball became a separate fund-raising event, held in the autumn.

The German Hospital had its public opening on 2 January 1858  — barely more than four months after the cornerstone was laid.
 

  "Hospital of the German Benevolent Society, San Francisco," c.1858 , by George F. Keller (1846–1927).  Collection of the California State Library.

"Hospital of the German Benevolent Society, San Francisco," c.1858, by George F. Keller (1846–1927).  Collection of the California State Library.

  
Fast forward eighteen years, to 28 August 1876. That night, at 11 p.m., a fire broke out at the Pacific Box Factory, next door to the hospital at the corner of Fourth and Brannan. The fire spread to the hospital. The loss was total.

A temporary hospital soon was constructed on the same site. But, the long-range priority was to build a new permanent facility. A building fund quickly was set in motion. And a new site was selected: the block bounded by Fourteenth, Noe,  Ridley and Castro Streets.

The new German Hospital had its public opening on 22 February 1878.
 

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  Ad for Ladies Fair of the German Benevolent Society ,  Daily Alta California , 27 February 1878. Source:  California Digital Newspaper Collection .

Ad for Ladies Fair of the German Benevolent Society, Daily Alta California, 27 February 1878. Source: California Digital Newspaper Collection.

No doubt, the need for funds to sustain this new hospital was the impetus for an event that — based on research of newspapers of the time — appears to have taken place only once during Emperor Norton's lifetime.

The Ladies' Fair of the German Benevolent Society — "for the Benefit of the Hospital Fund" — was held for one week, from 27 February to 5 March 1878, in Horticultural Hall, at the corner of Post and Stockton Streets. According to the newspaper advertisement, the event was open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission was 50 cents. 

A search of the Daily Alta, the source of the ad at right, shows a reference to only one other "Ladies' Fair" produced by the Society. But, this was in January 1883 — three years after Emperor Norton's death. Nor was there any such reference in any other paper in the California Digital Newspaper Collection — which includes the Morning Call, another major San Francisco paper of the era.

So, it appears that this 1878 event was the occasion for the Emperor to pen the following brief invitation to "[t]he Ladies."

The note itself was auctioned in October 2012. Click for a very large, hi-res image.


 

 
  Letter written and signed by Emperor Norton to the Ladies' Fair of the German Benevolent Society, c.1878.  Image courtesy of  Heritage Auctions . (Note: Heritage Auctions has this letter as "n.d." — by which the house means "No Date.")

Letter written and signed by Emperor Norton to the Ladies' Fair of the German Benevolent Society, c.1878. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions. (Note: Heritage Auctions has this letter as "n.d." — by which the house means "No Date.")

 
 
The Ladies Fair of the German Benevolent Association [sic]

As you have taken an Interest in my Imperial Government the Emperor will be glad to greet you in May or otherwise when you may wish his acquaintance.

Norton I Emperor US & Protector of Mexico
 


Based on context, I offer suggestions here for three words or phrases that Heritage Auctions — who auctioned this letter and is the source of the image — was unable or unwilling to identify.

For both the words "wish" and "acquaintance," Heritage has "[illegible]".

For the phrase "in May," Heritage has "as [illegible]".

I note that, by 1878 — the year of the Ladies' Fair — the German Benevolent Society was calling its May event a "picnic" rather than a "festival." But, as is clear from the following item in the 11 May 1878 issue of the Daily Alta, the event still was "annual" — and it still was in May. 
 

  Item re annual picnic of the German Benevolent Society ,  Daily Alta California , 11 May 1878. Source:  California Digital Newspaper Collection .

Item re annual picnic of the German Benevolent Society, Daily Alta California, 11 May 1878. Source: California Digital Newspaper Collection.


If we decipher Emperor Norton as writing that he would be "glad to greet you in May," then perhaps he was referring to the Society's upcoming picnic in Woodward's Gardens — knowing that "the Ladies" would be attending this event and surmising that the picnic might be a more convenient time for them to say hello.

The Emperor didn't have many dollars at his disposal. But, it wouldn't be surprising if this gentleman who so often had used his newspaper Proclamations to speak out in support — and, indeed, defense — of immigrants had suggested this rendezvous, in part, because he wished to chip in a couple of bucks to the cause. 
 

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