The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

TO HONOR THE LIFE + ADVANCE THE LEGACY OF EMPEROR NORTON

RESEARCH • EDUCATION • ADVOCACY

Filtering by Category: Proclamations

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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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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His Majesty's Voice Reaches the South

On the morning of 17 September 1859, Joshua Norton delivered to the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin his Proclamation declaring himself Emperor of the United States. The declaration appeared in that evening's edition. Who'd have guessed that, within a month, a newspaper in Mississippi would have printed the decree in full on its front page? 

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"I Would Like to Send That Scalp of Yours to Them."

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. 

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The Emperor Championed an Airship Inventor Who Published This Map of San Francisco in 1875

In July 1869, Emperor Norton issued a Proclamation urging his subjects to do everything in their power to advance the steam-powered airship experiments of Frederick Marriott. Six years later, in 1875, Marriott published a beautiful map of San Francisco. 

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On the Trail of the Elusive "Frisco" Proclamation

No proclamation attributed to Emperor Norton more often is actually quoted than the one in which he is said to have railed against the word "Frisco." But did the Emperor actually write this? As it turns out, the source of the "Frisco" proclamation is far from clear. In this wide-ranging, link-packed essay, we detail our quest for the origins of the decree and find that all roads may lead to 1939.

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Mother Jones "Link-Checks" Campaign in History of "Frisco"

It stands to reason that The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is one of the few organizations or individuals to be actively researching the question of whether Emperor Norton wrote the anti-"Frisco proclamation so often attributed to him. So it was gratifying, a couple of days ago, to have our efforts acknowledged by the respected San Francisco-based magazine Mother Jones.

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"Let the Emperor Have Skates — Or Close Up the Rinks!"

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.

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Campaign Awarded Grant to Publish Book of Norton Proclamations

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is pleased to announce that the nonprofit San Francisco History Association, as part of its Research Gift program, recently awarded the Campaign with a lead grant to develop and publish a book of selected Proclamations of Emperor Norton.

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The Original Public Advocate

In the current San Francisco mayoral election, one of the challengers to sitting mayor Ed Lee has offered an anti-corruption plan that includes a proposal that San Francisco create a new elected office for a Public Advocate.

Other major cities already have Public Advocates; the level of authority depends on the city.

But the general idea is that the Public Advocate is a kind of official watchdog — someone who helps to ensure that the citizens are being treated fairly; that government agencies and private companies are properly maintaining basic utilities and services like streets, public transit, water, electricity and gas (and not gouging the people in the process); and that corruption that affects the general populace is called out wherever it is found.

Sound familiar? It should.

The original Public Advocate is Emperor Norton.

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The Emperor of Brooklyn

"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. 

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In the Emperor's Study

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.

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Mr. Hutchinson's Mementos

It long has been known that, upon Emperor Norton's death in January 1880, many of his personal effects — including his regimentals, a hat, his sword and his treasured Serpent Scepter, an elaborate walking stick given him by his subjects in Oregon — went to the Society of California Pioneers (only to be lost 26 years later in the earthquake and fire). 

Many, but not all. This week, we discovered archival traces of an early 1880 donation to the Odd Fellows' Library Association of San Francisco. The donation  by David Hutchinson, Emperor Norton's longtime landlord at the Eureka Lodgings  included the stamp the Emperor used to place his seal on his proclamations. It might also have included the Emperor's final proclamation: written and sealed, but not yet delivered and published.  

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The Proclamatorium of Post Street

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.

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