Emperor Norton's Tour of 1864
Royal Visits to Marysville, Oroville and Petaluma
By the time the calendar opened on 1864, Emperor Norton was a well-known presence in San Francisco, as well in Oakland and Berkeley. And, he had begun making excursions to Sacramento.
At least as early as 19 December 1863, the Emperor was making official sallies to Sacramento. The matter-of-fact tone of the dispatch that appeared two days later in the Daily Alta California newspaper suggests that this was not his first visit as Emperor.
Emperor Norton has been attentively watching the Legislative proceedings today. He is costumed as usual, epaulettes included. It is understood that he favors French intervention in Mexican affairs. It is not true that he has already petitioned the Legislature to grant him an outfit, to visit, as special Ambassador, the city of the Montezumas.
But, it appears that the Emperor had yet to set foot in outposts of his Empire further afield.
Between mid February and mid March 1864, he remedied this with two royal junkets in quick succession — the first, to Marysville and Oroville; the second, to Petaluma.
The tour began with a river steamer excursion to Sacramento. After spending some time — it’s unclear how much — in the capital, the Emperor on February 14th was met by hosts from Marysville, 40 miles to the north of Sacramento, who escorted him by stagecoach to their city.
He had received invitations from both Marysville and Oroville, 30 miles to the north of Marysville, to attend the February 15th celebration of the opening of the new California Northern Railroad linking the two cities.
The Emperor spent the night of the 14th at the Western House, in Marysville, then was aboard the ceremonial train to Oroville the next day.
Emperor Norton’s biographer, William Drury, notes that, on the 15th, the morning edition of the Marysville Californian Express reported:
Yesterday the renowned Emperor Norton I of San Francisco, with his huge epaulettes and a hickory knotted stick, arrived in this city, under escort, on the stage from Sacramento, and put up at the Western House. We believe it is the intention of His Majesty to visit Oroville, and join in the railroad celebration.
Here is the Western House — also known as the Western Hotel — as it was when the Emperor stayed there. The hotel stood at the northwest corner of Second and D Streets — today, a parking lot.
Details of the Oroville festivities on the 15th were reported in the next day's edition of the Marysville Daily Appeal.
There was a parade, which invited citizens and guests to join in behind the ranks of dignitaries and various military guards and bands. One can reasonably guess that Emperor Norton was in the procession.
That evening, in Oroville, the Emperor attended a ball that capped the day’s celebration. An index of how famous he was already: There also was an Emperor Norton impersonator at the event.
NORTON ll. — On Monday evening, at Oroville, a good deal of amusement was created by a gentleman from this city assuming to personate Norton I. He was generally greeted as one of the royal family, and the greatest hospitality and respect was shown towards him. In fact, it was very evident that he had a "dead thing." He issued his proclamations with great sang froid, and was constantly surrounded by a gaping crowd. He in fact received more attention than the genuine Norton, and was voted the hospitalities of tho town—then and in the future.
A couple of weeks later, the Alta had this to say about the Oroville visit:
COURT RECORD. — His Imperial Majesty Norton — Dei Gratia—and all that sort of thing—has just returned from a tour through the interior counties, and expresses himself highly pleased with the conduct of his subjects, who thronged to meet him at every step of the Royal progress. The trip ended at Oroville, where the blasé Monarch demonstrated his love for his people by eating a square meal at the table d'hote at the principal public house of the city, surrounded by in admiring throng of his subjects. This unlooked-for and wonderful condescension on the part of the august Head of the nation, so affected the people of Oroville that several acres of garden fences were washed away and one man was drowned in the flood of tears which emanated from their eyes on the never-to-be-forgotten occasion. We are to have two Emperors on this continent in a short time; Maxey will soon come over to Mexico, and then we shall have plenty of quill-driving Jeemses from the other side of the herring pond, whose sole business it will be to get up such items.
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AFTER a month's respite home in San Francisco, the Emperor ventured north again, in mid March 1864, for what could be deemed "phase two" of his tour — a quick trip to Petaluma.
The local papers of this period record at least a half-dozen royal visits to Petaluma: March and June 1864, October 1868, August 1869, October 1870 and July 1873.
When the Petaluma Journal noted Emperor Norton’s March 1864 visit, the Daily Alta reprinted the item on its front page, attaching its own brief introduction.
COURT RECORD. — Everything touching our ever beloved monarch, who being neither a thief, a liar, or a seducer, is the hated of all other monarchs, and the much-admired wonder of the rest of the world, must be of interest to our people. The following notes of the "royal progress," are from the Petaluma Journal of the 17th inst.: "The Emperor Norton paid a flying visit to our city last week. The mighty destiny of empires appears to rest upon his shoulders, judging from the number of telegraphic dispatches and letters he is constantly receiving from distinguished sources. During a short visit to our sanctum he informed us, that on his way up, when at Lakeville, he had received a despatch from Lincoln; and soon after his arrival in this city he had a telegram from Jeff. Davis accusing him of being in collusion with the "gorilla" Lincoln. Notwithstanding he regards the charge as malicious and uncalled for, he preserves his wonted equanimity, and betrays none of that irascibility so common in vulgar plebeians. To our inquiry whether he contemplated extending his tour beyond our city, he replied that he did not, 'as would he both unwise and impolitic for him to place his royal person beyond the circuit of telegraphic communication.'"
Of course, the telegrams were pranks written by the telegraph operators themselves. It seems that quite a number of these operators who found themselves in Emperor Norton’s orbit were in on the long-running joke of writing and delivering to the Emperor telegrams — on official forms, and often purporting to be from some dignitary — then “processing,” but never delivering, his telegrams in response.
The Petaluma Journal’s phrase “flying visit” leaves it open to speculation whether Emperor Norton spent the night on this occasion. But, on at least one visit, the Emperor did take a room. The Petaluma Journal & Argus of Thursday 19 August 1869 noted that "Norton I arrived in town on Tuesday last and took apartments at the American.” Presumably, the reference to “apartments” is tongue-in-cheek.
NOTED VISITOR. — Norton I. arrived in town on Tuesday last and took apartments at the American. He expresses much solicitude for the welfare of this city and community, and orders certain improvements to be made forthwith; but we muchly suspect that the real object of the Emperor's visit at this particular time is to look after the Chairman of the Democratic County Committee, and against whom be issues a manifesto.
The American Hotel was in the 100 block of Main Street, on the west side of the street. Here’s an image of the hotel c.1863–73. Today, Main Street is known as Petaluma Boulevard North, and the former hotel site is a public park.
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Pins for Marysville, Oroville and Petaluma have been added to The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign’s interactive Emperor Norton Map of the World. The map now includes 57 sites where the Emperor lived, worked or frequented — or that otherwise are associated with him. Also included are 14 works of Emperor-inspired public art spread across 11 locations.
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