Join The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign and the Comstock Saloon in our celebration of Empire Day — the anniversary of Joshua Norton’s public declaration of himself as Emperor on 17 September 1859.Read More
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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.
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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."Read More
In 2015, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign launched a new holiday to commemorate the date — 17 September 1859 — when Joshua Norton declared himself and his Empire. We called it Empire Day.
Little known and appreciated is that, for many years — as part of his imperial rounds — Emperor Norton hopped the ferry every week and visited Oakland.
So, this coming September 17th — the third Empire Day— we celebrate with a Sunday afternoon ferry ride and family-friendly outing to the city that anchors the eastern end of the Emperor Norton Bridge.
The Emperor rode for free. So...
Round-trip ferry tickets are free to Emissaries of the Empire a.k.a. members of the Campaign.
Is your Emissary card up-to-date?Read More
It is known that Emperor Norton had his imperial promissory notes — his scrip — printed for him. But, rarely if ever discussed in any detail — even among collectors and connoisseurs of historical currency — are the particulars: Who were these printers? What were their associations? How did they get their "gigs" with the Emperor, and how did they fit into his world? Exactly when and where did they do their printing for him?
This exploration takes a close look at the two firms that are known to have printed Emperor Norton's bonds, between 1870 and 1880: Cuddy & Hughes and Charles A. Murdock & Co. It unearths:
- some of the earliest newspaper references to the Emperor's scrip — including by the Emperor himself;
- rarely seen photographic views of the building where Cuddy & Hughes, the Emperor's first printer, operated;
- a personal recollection of the Emperor that his second printer, Charles Murdock, published in 1921;
- directory listings; and...
Much other detail that sharpens the focus on this most basic episode of the Emperor's story — the printing and selling of scrip — and the key behind-the-scenes players that helped to make it happen.Read More
Two newly discovered photographs show new glimpses of the eastern end of the block of Commercial Street where Emperor Norton lived — as it was just after he moved there. The photos are from 1865 and 1866. The Emperor had moved to the block in late 1862 or early 1863. Samuel Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain worked on this block — next door to the palace, in fact — in the summer of 1864.
These views would have been very familiar to both gentlemen.Read More
Over the course of several months in 1873, Emperor Norton issued a series of Proclamations calling out the exploitation of Native American people; urging a peaceable resolution to the Modoc War that was taking place at the time; and warning that the execution of Captain Jack and other Modoc leaders — a punishment mandated by an Army court-martial and eventually carried out — would only make matters worse.
The Emperor's Bridge Campaign has discovered a May 1873 diary entry — by a 13-year-old boy living in Oakland — that further illuminates the Emperor's take on the Modoc War and on Native Americans in general.Read More
In the late nineteenth century, the popular amusement resort known as Woodward's Gardens — located in the area that now is San Francisco's Mission District — had what has been called the West Coast's largest rollerskating rink. In March 1872, Emperor Norton tried to go for a skate there. The Emperor was turned away. He was not happy.Read More
A portion of remarks offered by Emperor's Bridge Campaign founder and president John Lumea at the Campaign's inaugural celebration of Empire Day in San Francisco's Redwood Park on 17 September 2015. The event was held to mark the 156th anniversary of Joshua Norton's declaration of himself as "Emperor of these United States" on 17 September 1859 and to welcome the 157th year of the Nortonian realm and reign.Read More
"As everyone knows, the Emperor Norton I. visits this city every Monday." So wrote the Oakland Tribune newspaper on 30 December 1879, a little more than a week before the Emperor died on 8 January 1880.
Although Emperor Norton often is pigeonholed as a creature of San Francisco, the truth is that he spent quite a bit of time visiting places that were outside the seat of his Empire. Here's a look at two of those places — Oakland and the adjacent Brooklyn, Calif. — as well as two of the Emperor's proclamations that were datelined "Brooklyn."
Images include: the original Oakland Tribune item; archival 1850s-'70s maps of Oakland, Brooklyn and Alameda; and two "Brooklyn proclamations" of 1872. Bonus: The story of The Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.Read More
Early last month, we ran Eadweard Muybridge's wonderful exterior photograph of the 1866 building of the Mechanics' Institute, where Emperor Norton spent many afternoons, wrote many proclamations and played many games of chess. But the more elusive prize has been a photograph(s) of the building's interior — of the physical spaces that Emperor Norton himself inhabited on all those afternoons, so many years ago.
Happily, we now can close this gap.Read More
A remarkable 1868 photograph of a San Francisco street scene that would have been very familiar to Emperor Norton.Read More
Emperor Norton wrote many — possibly even most — of his Proclamations during his regular afternoon visits to the Mechanics' Institute at 31 Post Street, where he also is said to have played a fine game of chess. Here's a look at how the Institute featured in the Emperor's daily life, illustrated by a couple of photographs of the building — including a wonderful shot by the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), who also took the famous 1869 photo of the Emperor astride a bicycle.Read More
This day in 1863 saw the auction of the furnishings and other contents of the Metropolitan Hotel at the southwest corner of Sansome and Bush Streets, in San Francisco. Emperor Norton had lived here for the past two years. The same year, 1863, the Emperor began living at his best-known residence — the Eureka Lodgings on Commercial Street. Almost certainly, it was the closing of the Metropolitan that prompted the move. But this was not the first time Joshua Norton had lived at this corner.Read More
Starting in 1863, Emperor Norton occupied a sparsely furnished 9-by-6-foot room on the top floor of a 50-cent-per-night three-story boarding house known as the Eureka Lodgings. A decade earlier, the pre-imperial Joshua Norton enjoyed accommodation in one of the best hotels in San Francisco. What's surprising is that the difference between the daily rates of the two places appears to have been only about 50 cents.Read More