The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

TO HONOR THE LIFE + ADVANCE THE LEGACY OF EMPEROR NORTON

RESEARCH • EDUCATION • ADVOCACY

Filtering by Category: Original sources

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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Campaign Discovers Newspaper Record of Emperor Norton’s Famous Stand-Off with an Anti-Chinese Crowd

One of the most popular stories about Emperor Norton has the Emperor dispersing an anti-Chinese riot by standing before a racist mob and saying the Lord’s Prayer over and over. But, there never has been a date or documentation for this incident.

The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign has discovered what we believe to be the first document that stands to lift key elements of this story out of the realm of legend and into the realm of history. We share it here.

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Emperor Norton Addressed the European Trade Crisis of 1870 With an Offer of Imperial Bonds

In October 1870, the Franco-Prussian War was headed into its fourth month. Emperor Norton was angry about the bloodshed and appealed both to Wilhelm, the future German emperor, and Bismarck to stop the fighting. The Emperor also was concerned about the war’s negative impacts on European trade. He stepped into this particular breach with a concrete solution.

To help illustrate what he had in mind, the Emperor sent an influential German publisher in Leipzig one of his new imperial notes, signed and made out to the publisher.

Presented here is evidence that the note reached its destination. If this note survives, it would be the oldest one in existence.

It’s a fascinating story.

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Emperor Norton Makes the News at the German "Ladies Fair" of 1878

In March, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign stumbled upon an image of a handwritten note from Emperor Norton that had been sold at auction in October 2012. The manuscript was undated and was sold as such — but the note was addressed "to the Ladies' Fair of the German Benevolent Association." With this clue as a point of departure, we undertook to try to learn more about the note — including exactly when it was written.

We published our research postulating that the Emperor penned his note around the time of the Fair, which was held between 26 February and 5 March 1878.

In this follow-up, we present the image, original text and English translation of a German-language article from 2 March 1878 that appears to include a reference to the Emperor’s letter — which, it seems, was part of an “autographic album” of letters written to the “Ladies” of the Fair by a host of “scholars, artists and statesmen,” including then-President Rutherford B.Hayes.

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Time-Traveling With One of the Earliest Comic Illustrations of Emperor Norton

A wonderful illustration of Emperor Norton featured by the San Francisco Bulletin newspaper in 1913 and the California Review monthly in 1904 got its start as part of a triptych of “Prominent Men of San Francisco” drawn by George Frederick Keller (1846–1927) in c.1874, as the Emperor was reaching the height of his imperial influence and becoming a nationally known figure.

Not long after this, in 1876, Keller came to prominence as the chief artist of the new San Francisco Wasp, a position that briefly would earn him both fame and notoriety as one of the leading political cartoonists of his day.

The full story is in the flip — including high-resolution wonders that The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign is pleased to present online for the first time.

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

In early 1878, it appears, Emperor Norton penned a note "[t]o the Ladies Fair of the German Benevolent Association." When the item was sold at auction in October 2012, the auction house did not attempt to date it. But our research into the first 25 years of the German Benevolent Society, as it was called — a period that roughly paralleled the reign of the Emperor — points to the week of 27 February to 5 March 1878 as the specific moment when he reached out to say when he would be "glad to greet" these Ladies. Read on to learn more.

Also on the flip: A large, hi-res image of the Emperor's note, presented here for the first time anywhere online.

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"My Dear Lotta": Emperor Norton's Telegram to Lotta Crabtree

Of the 14 telegraph message forms in the California Historical Society's collection of Emperor Norton artifacts, most appear to be fakes written and signed by prankish telegraph operators. But, one appears to be authentic and in the Emperor's hand. It's a message from Emperor Norton to Lotta Crabtree, commending her on the recently dedicated fountain that she has commissioned as a gift to the City of San Francisco — and bestowing upon her the imperial title "Lady of the Fountain."

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The Itemized Bill for Emperor Norton's 1934 Reburial — And Who Paid It

In 1934, a group of members of San Francisco's Pacific-Union Club organized themselves as the Emperor Norton Memorial Association, for the purpose of overseeing the City-mandated reburial of Emperor Norton at Woodlawn cemetery, in Colma, Calif. The Association's goals were to (1) secure a burial plot; (2) have a new headstone made; (3) produce a public ceremony to dedicate the new grave and stone; and (4) raise the funds necessary to accomplish these goals.

Tucked inconspicuously into the Emperor Norton ephemera collection of the California Historical Society is an undated "Statement of Receipts and Disbursements," on Emperor Norton Memorial Association letterhead, that shows exactly how much money was raised; who gave what; and how the money was spent. 

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Setting the Record Straight on the Famous Emperor Norton Obit(s)

Emperor Norton died on Thursday 8 January 1880.

Time and time again, one reads that the San Francisco Chronicle was up the next morning with a dramatic front-page headline, "Le Roi Est Mort" ("The King Is Dead"), over a brief obituary whose signature passage began "On the reeking pavement, in the darkness of a moonless night under the dripping rain...."

It's a good story — but, it's not quite true.

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The Most Respectful Directory?

Much is made of the parenthetical designation of "(Emperor)" that appeared after Joshua Norton's name in the San Francisco city directories compiled by Henry G. Langley. But there was another directory that went a good bit further in explaining exactly who it was that lived at 624 Commercial Street between Montgomery and Kearny.

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