Lockhart & Porter, Undertakers and Casket Makers to the Emperor in 1880
In the arena of textual research, a snippet of information sometimes has to float across one’s eyeballs multiple times, across a period of years, even, before making enough of a dent in one’s consciousness for one to realize, “Oh, there’s something here!” — and then to investigate.
At least that’s how it is with me.
Earlier this week, I stumbled across a piece about Emperor Norton that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle of 5 April 1946. The piece was an installation of “Riptides,” a daily column by Robert O’Brien (1911–2004).
The passage of O’Brien’s that caught my eye: “Two days after he died, 10,000 San Franciscans filed past the royal, rosewood casket as he lay in state at Lockhart & Porter’s funeral parlors, 16 O’Farrell Street.”
“Lockhart & Porter’s.” This rang a bell. Where had I seen this before? A few minutes later, I’d made the connection: In his carefully researched little book, Emperor Norton of San Francisco, published in 1974, Rabbi William Kramer noted that “[i]t was [Joseph G. Eastland] who saw to it that the Emperor’s body would be suitably prepared and arranged for it to lie in state at the funeral parlor of Lockhart and Porter at 16 O’Farrell Street.”
But, Kramer’s book and O’Brien’s column are the only two references to Lockhart & Porter’s that rise readily to the surface in a search of details about Emperor Norton’s funeral.
All of the contemporaneous accounts — including the famous Chronicle article of 11 January 1880, headlined “Le Roi Est Mort” — note that 16 O’Farrell was the address of the City and County Coroner and Morgue; that this is where the Emperor’s body was brought upon his death on 8 January 1880; and that this is where multitudes came to view him on the morning and early afternoon of January 10th.
It appears that there is no mention of Lockhart & Porter’s.
But, for the eagle-eyed, there are a couple of tiny hints in the Chronicle article of January 11th that the public Coroner and Morgue wasn’t the only tenant at 16 O’Farrell:
His funeral took place yesterday afternoon from the undertaking establishment No. 16 O’Farrell Street. All the forenoon the remains laid in state in the rear-room of the Morgue. Thousands flocked thither for a last look at the man whose peculiarities of mind, garb and person had rendered him familiar to all.
Later in the article, the Chronicle noted:
On Christmas Eve [Emperor Norton] attended the choral service at the Episcopal Church of the Advent on Howard street, and when the children engaged in the service gathered around him as children were wont to do, he promised them that he would soon join their church. Mr. Eastland, being a vestryman of that church, asked the rector, Rev. W.L. Githens, to officiate at the funeral and that gentleman consented. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, Mr. Githens arrived at the undertaker’s with four little boys who form part of the choral service of the church. The little room was thronged, the people standing reverently uncovered.
Sure enough, it was not to the Morgue but to Lockhart & Porter’s, at 16 O’Farrell Street, that mourners were invited to pay their respects in this funeral notice that appeared in the Daily Alta California on 10 January 1880, the day of the Emperor’s funeral.
NORTON — In this city, January 8, 1880, Joshua A. Norton (Emperor Norton I.), aged 65 years.
Friends and acquaintances are respectfully invited to attend the funeral this day (Saturday), at two o’clock P.M., from Lockhart & Porter’s Warerooms, No. 16 O’Farrell street.
It doesn’t appear that the City issued any general invitation or announcement of the Emperor’s being available for viewing at the Morgue earlier in the day. Which makes it all the more remarkable that 10,000 showed up anyway,
The Emperor’s people have a way of finding him. It was ever thus.
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As to Lockhart & Porter…
The term “funeral home” didn’t come into vogue until the first decade or two of the twentieth century.
But, it appears that L&P was what today we would consider to be a full-service funeral home and more.
Not only did the firm provide embalming, presentation, visitation, funeral and burial services. It also was a “to the trade” dealer of undertaker’s supplies — and it built its own caskets.
The San Francisco directory for 1880, the year Emperor Norton died, shows that Lockhart & Porter had several carpenters and “varnishers” in its employ.
The firm was the partnership of George A. Lockhart and William H. Porter.
It appears that the “death trade” was something of a family business for Lockhart. As early as 1862, the San Francisco directory listed an Albert E. Lockhart — probably George’s younger brother — as a carpenter for the firm of Atkins Massey, a respected undertaker.
Over much of the next decade, both George and Albert Lockhart were listed in local directories as working for other undertakers; as undertakers under their own names; or as, in George’s case, an independent “coffin manufacturer.”
By 1872, George Lockhart and William Porter were listed as a partnership of “coffin manufacturers” doing business at 269 Stevenson Street.
By 1874, the coffin manufacturing company was Lockhart, O’Day & Co., with Porter an unnamed partner. And, Lockhart, Porter & Co. was a separate undertaking company based at 29 Third Street, between Stevenson and Jessie Streets.
By 1875, there was single firm, Lockhart & Porter, with coffin manufacturing operations at 29 Bluxome Street and everything else at 29 Third Street. By the following year, Lockhart & Porter had moved its undertaking operation — including its funeral parlor — to 16 O’Farrell. And the name of the firm now appeared in the city directory in boldface type.
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No doubt, Lockhart & Porter did a fair bit of business with the families and friends of those whose next-to-last stop before burial was the City and County Morgue. Among other things, keeping everything under one roof helped these clients to keep expenses in check.
Almost certainly, Emperor Norton’s old friend, James Eastland, used Lockhart & Porter for all the funeral arrangements that he led his fellow Pacific Club members to fund — meaning that it was Lockhart & Porter who made the rosewood and silver-trimmed casket; L&P who prepared the Emperor’s body, provisioned the funeral attire (black robe, white shirt, black tie) and provided the hearse carriage; and L&P who performed the burial itself.
It’s slightly curious that the casketed and groomed Emperor was placed for viewing in the Morgue all morning and early afternoon, to be moved to the funeral parlor only for the 2 o’clock funeral itself. Then again, the funeral parlor — there seems to have been only one — may have been in use earlier.
According to the Chronicle, Rev. Githens “said that had he supposed there was so much interest felt in the funeral he would have held the services in his church.”
Perhaps Lockhart & Porter, too, assumed that this was going to be just another Saturday at the undertakers’ — with no need to prepare for a larger-than-usual crowd.
How wrong they were!
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