Chief Crowley Releases a Sword
The Emperor’s Confiscated Blade Had
Been in Police Custody for 15 Years
On 16 February 1880 — a little more than a month after Emperor Norton’s death on 8 January — the Emperor’s main personal effects were conveyed to the Society of California Pioneers, by Resolution 14,465 of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
The Coroner’s Report for the fiscal year ending 30 June 1880 included a catalog of the “Property of Deceased Persons.” This catalog — printed in the San Francisco Municipal Reports for the fiscal year — included the following listing for Joshua A. Norton:
The listing begins with the items found and kept from the Emperor’s person:
Two dollars and fifty cents (gold coin)
$3 (silver coin)
five franc silver coin
two car tickets
pair eye glasses
It then moves to the items found and kept from the Emperor’s room in the Eureka Lodgings at 624 Commercial Street:
From among these items, the following were conveyed to the Pioneers, with the remainder being delivered to the city treasurer, William R. Shaber:
Interesting to note: “Scrap books” were not on either of the lists of items found and kept from the Emperor’s person or his room.
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It appears that at least one additional Imperial artifact was added to the California Pioneers’ collection in the wake of Emperor Norton’s death.
Patrick Crowley (1831–1907) was San Francisco’s legendary chief of police across two influential tenures — 1866 to 1873, and 1879 to 1897 — amounting to some 25 years.
It was Crowley who was police chief in January 1867, when an overzealous police “special” named Armand Barbier falsely arrested Emperor Norton on bogus charges of vagrancy and lunacy. Barbier was not part of the regular force but rather part of an auxiliary paid by particular business owners to patrol only their neighborhood. In effect, Barbier was a glorified security guard.
Crowley quickly saw the folly of the incident and released the Emperor the next morning.
Fast forward 13 years and Patrick Crowley was at the beginning of his second stint as chief of police, when Emperor Norton died.
Perhaps it was news of the cache of the Emperor’s effects going to the Society of California Pioneers that triggered Crowley’s memory that the San Francisco Police Department had been holding something else of the Emperor’s for 15 years — and his feeling that now, for posterity’s sake, would be a good time to place the artifact back in the company of the Emp’s other possessions.
Here’s how the San Francisco Examiner carried the news on 27 February 1880:
Emperor Norton’s Sword
A number of the friends of the late Emperor Norton, in 1865, presented him with an elegant regulation sword, appropriately inscribed, in order that the military suit he then wore might be complete. The first day he wore it a drunken individual met him on the street and tantalized him, whereupon he drew his sword from its scabbard and would have run the man through had not a police officer stepped up and disarmed him. The sword was placed in Chief Crowley’s cabinet of criminal curiosities, where it remained until yesterday, when the Chief had it taken from there and sent to the rooms of the California Pioneers, where it will be kept as a souvenir of San Francisco’s eccentric character.
So, the Pioneers had not one but two swords of the Emperor Norton. Alas, these and everything else of the Emperor’s that had been in the Pioneers’ keeping were lost in the earthquake and fires of 1906.
But, this much is clear: We now know of at least two occasions when Chief Crowley was a true friend of the Emperor.
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