The Emperor's Bridge Campaign



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Oofty Goofty Wore a Leather Pad in His Pants

Accounts of Emperor Norton often note that he is the most famous of a larger cast of Public Characters that peopled the streets of San Francisco during his lifetime.

But, with the exception of Frederick Coombs a.k.a. George Washington II, the biographical particulars of these Characters — legal names; dates of birth and death; and exactly when, and for how long, they were in San Francisco — often are left in clouds of ambiguity.

As it happens, one of the most famous Characters mentioned in connection with Emperor Norton didn’t even arrive in San Francisco until three or four years after the Emperor’s death.

Harvested from contemporaneous newspaper accounts, this timeline of five of the Characters most often associated with Emperor Norton — The Money King; George Washington II; The Great Unknown; The King of Pain; and Oofty Goofty — fills in many biographical blanks and finds surprising new details about the careers of these legendary figures.

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Emperor Norton & Denis Kearney, Together in 1879 — On the Back Cover of The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp

Emperor Norton and the fear-mongering, violence-inciting demagogue Denis Kearney were on opposite sides of California’s “Chinese question.” But, in December 1879, the two men were depicted together on the back cover of The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp, in a cartoon by George Frederick Keller.

The cartoon spoke volumes about the Emperor’s moral stature.

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Emperor Norton Days, 1989

Exactly 30 years ago — in mid-July 1989 — there was a big carnival in Civic Center Plaza, San Francisco. There was a midway with games. Some 25 “giant” rides. Sideshows. Food. There were concerts at night.

This was a big deal! It was called Emperor Norton Days.

The carnival was slated for Thursday 13 July to Sunday 16 July 1989 — but, it was so popular, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors granted an extension for the following weekend, from Thursday the 20th to Sunday the 23rd.

Although there were plans for a second Emperor Norton Days, in July 1990, it appears that the carnival might have had only the one run, in 1989.

Were you there?

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Chief Crowley Releases a Sword

On 16 February 1880 — a little more than a month after Emperor Norton’s death on 8 January — the San Francisco Board of Supervisors conveyed the Emperor’s main personal effects to the Society of California Pioneers.

San Francisco Police Chief Patrick Crowley, who famously had released the Emperor from jail in January 1867 — the morning after an overzealous member of the police auxiliary had falsely arrested the Emperor on bogus charges of vagrancy and lunacy — had one more item to add to the Pioneers’ new collection of Imperial artifacts.

The Police Department had been holding on to it for 15 years.

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A REAL GONE BRIDGE: Judy Garland's 1959 Remake of "San Francisco" Turns 60

Sixty years ago today — on 1 July 1959 — Judy Garland started an 11-night stand at the War Memorial Opera House, in San Francisco.

During this stand, Garland introduced a transformative new version of the 1936 song “San Francisco.”

The song had been written and composed for her by her longtime accompanist, musical director and mentor, Roger Edens.

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An Early Pro-Immigrant Proclamation from the Immigrant Emperor

An abiding concern of Emperor Norton was for the welfare of immigrants. The Emperor issued numerous Proclamations and took other actions in the defense and support of specific immigrant communities — notably, the Chinese, German and French.

More broadly, Emperor Norton wanted to ensure that the basic needs of arriving immigrants be met. This included his determination that cash-poor immigrants have enough money to get started in their new country.

His concern for the financial security of immigrants was evident at least as early as November 1867, when he issued a brief Proclamation that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

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When a Veteran Rocker’s Great Great Grandparents Hosted Emperor Norton at Their Sonoma Valley Ranch

He’s a two-time Grammy Award winner — for co-writing “After the Love Is Gone” (Earth, Wind & Fire) and “Turn Your Love Around” (George Benson).

As a solo artist, he had his own minor hit in 1981 with “Sara.”

In the 1970s and ‘80s, he was one of the most in-demand backing vocalists in Los Angeles, appearing on hundreds of recordings, including by: Elton John, Al Jarreau, Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, The Tubes, Patti LaBelle, Neil Diamond, Donna Summer, Barry Manilow, Kim Carnes, Kenny Rogers and on and on

His cover of the 1967 Ray Charles tune, "In the Heat of the Night,” was used as the opening theme for the television series that ran from 1988 to 1995.

For nearly 30 years, from 1981 to 2009, he was a member — and was instrumental in the rebirth — of one of the best-known and longest-running bands of all time.

And, he is widely recognized as being one of the best vocalists in rock.

But, it was his great-great grandparents who had the real connections in the family.

Read on for the whole story.

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Emperor Norton & The Great Unknown: Two Eccentrics Meet in a Rare Illustration from 1871

By the time Max Cohnheim arrived in San Francisco in 1867, at around age 41 — Cohnheim had immigrated to the United States in 1851 — he already was a noted German-language writer, editor, playwright and sometime actor of political satire.

On 17 June 1871, Cohnheim debuted his latest satirical magazine, the San Francisco Humorist. The inaugural issue featured a comic illustration of the Emperor Norton conferring with another well-known street character of the day — a dandy who styled himself The Great Unknown.

It seems likely that the Emperor and the Unknown at least would have been acquainted with one another.

Read on to learn more about the Great Unknown and to see this early illustration of Emperor Norton — an illustration, drawn during the Emperor’s lifetime, that probably has lain in obscurity for decades and probably has seen by very few people at all since it first was published nearly 150 years ago.

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Emperor Norton's Hunch: "Lu Watters Original" or Variation on an Earlier Theme?

Many who follow Emperor Norton are fond of a Dixieland revival tune, “Emperor Norton’s Hunch,” that was performed, recorded and popularized in the late 1940s by Lu Watters and his Yerba Buena Jazz Band.

For decades, Lu Watters has been credited as the composer of the song. But, on a 1950 album released by Watters and the band, the composer credit went to someone else.

Getting under the surface of that exception suggests that, perhaps, Watters is not the original composer of “Emperor Norton’s Hunch” but is better understood as an arranger who produced a variation on an existing theme — and who also, in this case, was a self-promoter who was able to brand himself as the composer simply by being the first to say so in a public, official way, gambling that the risk of a serious challenge was low.

Read on to learn the fascinating story of the sometime composer Wilbur Watkins Campbell — and about why there is reason to believe that the roots of “Emperor Norton’s Hunch” lie in an earlier work by him.

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Emperor Norton's Tour of 1864

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.

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.

Of course, the newspapers both at home and “abroad” were only too happy to cover these visits.

Read on for the whole story — and for rarely seen photographs of a couple of the hotels where Emperor Norton stayed when he visited these places.

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Emperor Norton at Madame Pique's

In his original Proclamation of 17 September 1859, Emperor Norton summonsed “the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of February next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.”

Alas, Musical Hall was destroyed in a fire on 23 January 1860 — just a week before the appointed date.

The Emperor quickly rescheduled his meeting, issuing a Proclamation on January 28th revising the date and the venue to “the 5th day of February next, in Assembly Hall, on Kearny street, of this city.”

This is the secret history of the would-be site of Emperor Norton’s national convention of February 1860 — and of the woman who gave the building its original name.

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In the Wake of the Emperor’s Death, A Literary Tribute and a Woodcut Illustration Appears in Illinois

Richard D. Faulkner — of Bodega, in Sonoma County, Calif. — was an 1877 graduate of Illinois Industrial University, now known as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While at the university, Faulkner was the business manager of the student newspaper, The Illini.

In its March 1880 number — two months after the death of Emperor Norton — The Illini published Faulkner’s literary profile-in-tribute to the Emperor, including Faulkner's memories of having met the Emperor several times on an earlier trip to San Francisco.

The profile was accompanied by a lovely new woodcut illustration of the Emp.

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Emperor Norton, Friend of Immigrants

In April 1875, Emperor Norton issued one of his most important Proclamations on the welcome, sympathy, assistance, protection and care of immigrants.

Thirty years later, in September 1908, this Proclamation was bumped to the top of the pile, when the Emperor’s portraitist Addie Ballou included it — unsourced — in a brief memoir of her experience of the Emperor that she wrote for the San Francisco Call.

Alas, the Proclamation has languished in unmentioned obscurity for most of the last 110 years — not least, because it has not been publicly sourced and documented as authentic.

This, we do here.

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"To Dream of the Emperor Norton"

In January 1865 — back in his native New York for a year, after spending the previous five years in San Francisco — David Montross Gazlay debuted a new magazine that he called Gazlay’s Pacific Monthly. The purpose of the magazine was to evangelize an East Coast readership as to the virtues — and the opportunities — of the Pacific states and territories.

The inaugural issue of the Pacific Monthly featured a reprint of a charming item of literary humor originally published elsewhere — apparently in the early 1860s — and which includes a poignant reference to Emperor Norton.

As it happens, Gazlay and the Emperor had occasion to meet in February 1861, when both men attended a citizens’ meeting — called by San Francisco Mayor Henry Teschemacher — to plan a major pro-Union rally.

Click below for the whole story.

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Emperor Norton at a Pro-Civil Rights Lecture, March 1868

Emperor Norton’s on-point attendance at an early event of the Order of Freedom’s Defenders — a Unionist-Republican political club dedicated to preserving Lincoln's legacy; advancing Reconstruction; electing Grant as President; and securing the Constitutional protections necessary to guarantee the civil rights of African-Americans — can be seen as “of a piece” with the Emperor’s broader commitment to African-American equality.

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The Emperor Norton Rooms of 1961

In spring 1961, two establishments opened in San Francisco.

One was a hotel bar on Geary Street. The other was a lunch spot and cocktail lounge on Maiden Lane.

Both were less than two blocks from Union Square.

One was created by a designer who went on to be celebrated in the pages of the Architectural Digest. It had an "Emperor Norton" doorman. And, per Herb Caen, it once was host to Jack Dempsey and Lefty O'Doul — sharing a bowl of peanuts on the same night.

The other was home to a new portrait of the Emperor commissioned by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Both were called the Emperor Norton Room.

Here’s the intriguing story of two Nortonian stars that briefly rose and just as quickly fell in the same San Francisco season.

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Emperor Norton on the Front Row of the Fight for Ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment Removing Race as a Barrier to Voting

In February 1869, the U.S. Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment, which would have the effect of extending the right to vote in the United States to all men of color.

Ten months later — as ratification was making its way through the states, and with California still in the balance — a respected African-American editor and activist named Peter Anderson gave a lecture in favor of the Amendment at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church, on Stockton Street in San Francisco.

Emperor Norton showed up, took a seat down front and was “an attentive listener,” according to the San Francisco Examiner.

The Amendment was ratified in February 1870 — no thanks to California, where the legislature rejected the Amendment against a backdrop of anti-Chinese racism in the state. But, Anderson — the editor of the African-American-owned and -operated Pacific Appeal newspaper — may have remembered Emperor Norton’s solidarity when, late that year, he took on the Emperor as a regular contributor to his pages.

Over the next four-and-a-half years, Anderson would publish — almost always on the front page — some 250 of Emperor Norton’s proclamations, including those insisting on the rights of African-Americans to attend public schools and ride public streetcars.

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Emperor Norton’s Early Engagement With an African-American Editor Reveals the Essence of the Emperor’s Mission — And Foreshadows a Key Relationship

In 1860, the prominent African-American editor and civil rights activist Philip Alexander Bell arrived in San Francisco from New York City to take up the editor’s chair at the San Francisco Mirror of the Times newspaper —the intellectual and political heartbeat of the emerging movement for African-American equality in California.

One of Bell’s earliest editorial items — published on 20 August of that year — was about Emperor Norton. Within a matter of hours, the Emperor responded in writing, and Bell published the note the following day under the headline “A Pacific Proclamation.”

Twenty months later, Bell would join Peter Anderson, a founder of the Mirror, in converting the paper to a new African-American weekly called The Pacific Appeal. At the end of 1870, Emperor Norton named the Appeal his imperial gazette; and, over the next four-and-a-half years, Anderson, as editor, published some 250 of the Emperor’s proclamations — including his many decrees recognizing the humanity and rights, and demanding fairness and equality, for marginalized and immigrant people, specifically: the Chinese, Native Americans and African-Americans,

The fact that Emperor Norton responded to Philip Bell in 1860 — and what he said — tells us much about the Emperor.

We believe this is the first modern publication of the images and full texts of Bell’s editorial and the Emperor’s reply.

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“The Old Boy Doped It Out Pretty Damn Well” — Notes on an Early "Emperor's Bridge" Campaigner

A May 1956 episode of the television series Telephone Time is one of the four films currently included in The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign’s digital ARchive of Emperor Norton in Art, Music & Film (ARENA).

The series was created, produced and hosted by John Nesbitt. And the episode is titled “Emperor Norton’s Bridge,” although the Bay Bridge — the Emperor’s bridge — appears nowhere in the story.

As it happens, though, Nesbitt — starting years before the airing of the episode — was a lifelong advocate for naming the Bay Bridge after Emperor Norton.

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