The Emperor's Bridge Campaign



EMPEROR NORTON  ::  Bicentennial: 2018

Emperor Norton, between spring 1871 and spring 1872.  From carte de visite by Tuttle & Johnson studio, 523 Kearny Street, "Heliographic Artists." Collection of the California Historical Society.

Emperor Norton, between spring 1871 and spring 1872. From carte de visite by Tuttle & Johnson studio, 523 Kearny Street, "Heliographic Artists." Collection of the California Historical Society.

Emperor Norton at 200

In 2015, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign held its first birthday party for Emperor Norton — an event at which we presented our original research showing that, most likely, Joshua Abraham Norton was born on 4 February 1818.

Previous biographers had offered 1818 as the year of Emperor Norton's birth. But, none had made the case for a specific date. Nor had they explained why the birth year — 1819 — inscribed on the Emperor's gravestone is mistaken. (Click here for our full presentation and here for our Emperor Norton Birth Date Project.)

So it is that Sunday 4 February 2018 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Norton. To celebrate this momentous and high occasion, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign produced...

EMPEROR NORTON AT 200 — a 6-week bicentennial series of exhibits, talks, toasts and other special events in January, February and March 2018.

Participating institutions:




Calendar of events

Keep scrolling to see all the Events, Exhibits and Toasts (Three Cheers for Emperor Norton) currently planned for the EMPEROR NORTON AT 200 series. Please keep checking back for additional details — including ticket information — and added events.


1 Feb 2018
California Historical Society

A Lecture & Pop-Up Exhibit in Celebration of the Emperor Norton Bicentennial

At this event to kick off the Emperor Norton at 200 series, the California Historical Society will exhibit items from its collection of rarely displayed Emperor artifacts and ephemera, and Emperor's Bridge Campaign president John Lumea will offer a lecture that asks: Who is Emperor Norton? What does it mean to say that the Emperor Norton was an eccentric? Why do we latch on to certain parts of his story and not to others? Is it time to update our vision of the Emperor? Wine, beer and light snacks will be served.

FACEBOOK invitation.


Free tickets to Emissaries of the Empire (advance or at the door). To get free advance tickets via the Web site of the California Historical Society, please request a promo code from the Campaign.  Also free to Members of the California Historical Society.

General admission: $10.

For more details — and for tickets — click here.


4 Feb 2018
Comstock Saloon

Emperor Norton's 200th Birthday FREE LUNCH *

In Emperor Norton's San Francisco, the institution of the "free lunch" was a great leveler. Saloons like Martin & Horton's (southeast corner of Montgomery and Clay) and the Bank Exchange (southeast corner of Montgomery and Washington, in the Montgomery Block) had lunch tables where, for the price of a drink — 25 cents, at the better places — cash-poor folk like the Emperor and the most prominent reporters, editors, lawyers, politicians and bankers, alike, rubbed shoulders and were invited to help  themselves to a "free" spread of salmon, roast beef, potatoes, tomatoes, cheese, crackers, bread and butter.

On the Emperor's 200th birthday, join us for a celebratory "free lunch" at Comstock Saloon and eat like the Emperor!

Free Pork Belly Benedict with the purchase of two adult beverages.

For the occasion, a special cocktail, The Emperor Norton, will be served. The cocktail — aged rum, apricot brandy, citrus and Angostura bitters, shaken and served up — will go for $10.

Please note: The "free lunch" is an historically themed promotion — but...

NO ONE IS REQUIRED TO DRINK. Appetizers and entrees will be priced individually — and those who don't drink or don't want to drink two are absolutely welcome and invited to join us for lunch and simply order off the menu.

Come one, come all!!!

FACEBOOK invitation.

* Free with the purchase of two adult beverages.

4 Feb 2018
San Francisco City Hall & Coit Tower

Two Historic Landmarks Lit in Gold for the Emperor's 200th Birthday

Contemporaneous accounts of Emperor Norton often highlighted the fact that the over-sized gold epaulettes he wore were tarnished. On this day, at least, the Emperor's gold will be shining bright! On the night of the bicentennial, at the request of The Emperor's Bridge Campaign, these two gold notes on the San Francisco skyline — City Hall and Coit Tower — will make for a truly elegant 200th birthday tribute to the Emperor.


7 Feb 2018
Mechanics' Institute

Emperor Norton's 200th Birthday BASH

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign returns with its annual celebration of Emperor Norton's birth —  a tradition we initiated three years ago, with the Emperor's 197th birthday.

As it happens, the bicentennial itself — February 4th — falls on Super Bowl Sunday.  To help make sure that as many as possible in the Bay Area who salute the Emperor —  including diehard football fans — can join together to eat cake and sing Happy Birthday, the Official Birthday Party is being held a couple of days later. 

So, party like it's 1859! Join us at the Mechanics' Institute on February 7th for cake and bubbly to celebrate the 200th birthday of Joshua Abraham Norton,  the businessman who one day in 1859 declared himself Emperor of the United States and (in 1862) Protector of Mexico.

Also serving: Emperor Norton Absinthe Dieu from Treasure Island-based Raff Distillerie, with master distiller Carter Raff in attendance.

The theme for the event is "a day in the life of Emperor Norton," as the Institute's 1866 building, formerly located on the site of the Institute's current building and lost in 1906, was one of Emperor Norton's regular afternoon haunts: a place where he wrote many of his Proclamations — on Institute stationery — and where is reputed to have played a mean game of chess.

Attendees are encouraged to dress according to the San Francisco style during the period of the Emperor's reign: 1860s and 1870s. Bonus points for those dressed as other storied Mechanics' Institute figures of the Emperor's acquaintance. If Eadweard Muybridge, Andrew Smith Hallidie or Mary Ellen Pleasant is in your costume repertoire, now is your moment! [Mechanics' Institute]


Admission is free.


15 Feb 2018
San Francisco Public Library (Main)

The Best Proclamations of Emperor Norton That You've Never Heard Of

Emperor Norton was an elegant writer, and he is rightly famous for his Proclamations. So, it's a shame that only a handful of these published decrees — some of which, the Emperor almost certainly didn't even write — tend to find their way to the spotlight.

In this special talk, Emperor's Bridge Campaign president John Lumea will reveal "the literary Emperor," as seen through many of his imperial Proclamations that rarely get any attention — but that, as a body of work, actually are more significant, in illustrating the full range of his concerns, than those that do.

Admission is free. Details here.


26 February 2018
Microsoft Reactor SF


This event, organized by our friend, Julie Driver — who is Emperor Norton's 4x-great niece — will use "light" as an organizing theme to tie together a number of seemingly disparate subjects: Emperor Norton, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, photogrammetry and holography.

Julie recently was the third-place winner in a HoloLens app development contest sponsored by Microsoft and Unity Technologies. Julie won for her app, The Emperor Norton Bridge, which blends a virtual-reality experience of the bridge with opportunities to learn about the Emperor. The evening will feature mini-talks by Julie and by Laura Ackley, author of San Francisco's Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915; Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging; Joseph Amster, "Emperor Norton" of Time Machine Tours; and Ben Davis of ILLUMINATE, the arts nonprofit behind The Bay Lights.

Attendees also will be able to demo Julie's Emperor Norton Bridge app using a Microsoft HoloLens.

Admission is $15. Details and tickets here.


1 February 2018
California Historical Society


In connection with the kick-off lecture of the Emperor Norton at 200 series (see Events, above), the California Historical Society presents — in its North Baker Research Library — a one-night-only exhibit of items from its collection of Emperor Norton artifacts and ephemera. 

28 January – 2 March 2018
San Francisco History Center / San Francisco Public Library (Main Library)


Emperor Norton is a mythic figure in San Francisco history, a lovable eccentric who walked the city in an outlandish costume, dispensing good cheer and proclamations in the 19th-century city. His story has endured for years, immortalized in local history books and newspapers, and seemingly discovered anew by succeeding generations. This pop-up exhibit, in partnership with Emperor Norton’s bicentennial, will showcase just some of the many books, prints and articles that have kept the Emperor alive in the popular imagination of San Francisco for close to two centuries. [San Francisco Public Library]

Admission is free. Details here.

24 January – 11 March 2018
Society of California Pioneers Museum and Library


LE ROI EST MORT (THE KING IS DEAD, in French) was the headline of The San Francisco Chronicle the day after Joshua Norton's funeral. Another paper wrote: “San Francisco without an emperor is like a throne without a king.” It is hard to say if these newspapers were being kind or being cruel. After all, members of San Francisco high society invited Emperor Norton to their parties, but only because they were entertained by his eccentricities. Were they honoring a member of their community or ridiculing a deeply troubled man who thought he was royalty? It is impossible to say. Images of Norton echo this dichotomy; drawings often depict him as either heroic or benign, while in photographs he appears motley at best and even malevolent at times.

The Society of California Pioneers marks the bicentennial of Norton's birth by featuring a selection of rarely-seen portraits of the man himself. [Society of California Pioneers]

Admission is free. Location and hours here.

7 February – 31 March 2018
Mechanics' Institute


Over the last few years, San Francisco "maker" and Emperor's Bridge Campaign board member Aaron Almanza has created a wonderful series of Norton-themed pins and miniatures. These are on exhibit – together with a selection of biographies and other books from the Mechanics' Institute's collection that include accounts of the Emperor – in the Institute's second-floor Library. 

Non-members of the Institute: Simply knock on the door of the Library and smile nicely, whereupon an Institute librarian will let you in to view the exhibit. 

Admission is free.


There are three bars that have been The Emperor's Bridge Campaign's most frequent — and gracious — hosts since our launch in 2013. During the bicentennial month of February 2018, we'll visit each of these three and raise a glass to the Emperor.

  • Emperor Norton's Boozeland

  • The House of Shields

  • Comstock Saloon

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