The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

TO HONOR THE LIFE + ADVANCE THE LEGACY OF EMPEROR NORTON

RESEARCH • EDUCATION • ADVOCACY

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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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Campaign Receives Major Pledge to Help Fund Limited-Edition Compilation Album of "Emperor Songs"

On the eve of a crowdfunding campaign in support of its project to produce a compilation album of “Emperor songs” — songs about, or in some way inspired by, Emperor Norton — the Campaign has received a pledge of $3,000 for the project — which represents one-half of the projected $6,000 needed to pay for all costs associated with producing and distributing the album, including engineering, design, vinyl pressing, shipping materials and postage.

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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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“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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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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The Emperor's Bridge Campaign Contributes Four Rare Emperor Norton Films to the Internet Archive

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign has contributed four rare Emperor-themed films to the Internet Archive, the nonprofit library that collects published works and makes them available in digital formats. 

These films are rarely seen outside the domains of film screening societies and, occasionally, subscription cable television — and sometimes not even then.

The Campaign is delighted and grateful to have the Internet Archive as a partner in making these films available for viewing by a broader audience — both via the Internet Archive and via the Campaign's own ARchive of Emperor Norton in Art, Music & Film (ARENA). 

This collaboration with the Internet Archive includes the Archive's new high-resolution scan of the Campaign's 16mm copy of a 1936 theatrical film short that appears to feature the earliest dramatic portrayal of Emperor Norton extant on film.

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