To learn more about Emperor Norton...
BOOKS, ARTICLES & ESSAYS
The following three titles all are long out of print and can be rather expensive on the collector's market — but they are readily available from good lending libraries in California and elsewhere.
William Drury's excellent book, Norton I: Emperor of the United States (Dodd, Mead, 1986), is recognized as the standard biography of Emperor Norton, and is the starting point for many contemporary articles about the Emperor.
For nearly 50 years prior to the publication of Drury's biography, the standard book-length treatment was Allen Stanley Lane's Emperor Norton: The Mad Monarch of America (The Caxton Printers, 1939), which remains a useful if somewhat romanticized account.
Rabbi William M. Kramer's scholarly little book, Emperor Norton of San Francisco (Norton B. Stern, 1974) — subtitled "A look at the life and death and strange burials of the most famous eccentric of gold rush California — is a fascinating exploration of the Emperor's Jewishness and of the Jewish community's ambivalence about that.
In addition to our own biographical essay and original research, the best online articles and essays about Emperor Norton — minus the undocumented claims that the Emperor penned an anti-"Frisco" proclamation — include:
- Peter Moylan, "Emperor Norton," Encyclopedia of San Francisco.
- Chris Carlsson, "Emperor Norton," Found SF.
- Joel GAzis-SAx, "The Madness of Joshua Norton" (in three parts).
Many have been introduced to Emperor Norton via this podcast by Sparkletack, a.k.a. Richard Miller.
DOCUMENTARY FILM TREATMENTS
There also are some wonderful short documentaries* about the Emperor, including this 1998 film by Brett Schwartz:
This 2010 film by Isaac Wolfe:
And this 2004 film by Nick Crummey, Nina Hirten, Anna Kocherovsky and Zach Shiner:
* These three documentaries are recommended here, in part, because the filmmakers all are extremely careful stewards of the histories they address. There are, however, a couple of factual misses. In the second film above, for example, one interviewee claims that Emperor Norton set out the visions for both the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge; this is not the case. And the third film concludes by saying that "a movement...to name the Western span of the Bay Bridge after His Majesty....passed the San Francisco legislature and is now moved on to Sacramento for the final decision." In fact, the resolution adopted in late 2004 by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors called for only the new Eastern section of the bridge to be named for the Emperor. This suggestion was not embraced by the Oakland City Council, and the idea went no further.
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