VIPs in San Francisco


Joshua "Emperor" Norton I: Claimant to the Imperial Throne of North America

Emperor Norton, Claimant to the Imperial Throne of North America.

Norton was a merchant who went mad after going bankrupt. He proclaimed himself "Norton I, Emperor of North America and Protector of Mexico." San Francisco indulged him in his madness. He roamed the town freely, inspecting his realm in a lordly way, levied small taxes on businessmen, which they obligingly paid, and issued stately proclamations, which the newspapers solemnly published.

Bummer and Lazarus have been sometimes described as having been Emperor Norton's dogs, but they were not; it is possible that Jump's cartoon may have engendered that notion. Bummer, a black Newfoundland of a sort, with a white stripe, first came to the city's attention one day in 1861 when he slew an epic number of rats that had swarmed out of an excavation outside the Blue Wing Saloon. A dog of great dignity and presence, as well as valor, he patrolled a regular beat down Montgomery Street, where he would present himself at restaurants to be fed. Lazarus was, as Mark Twain wrote, Bummer's "obsequious vassal" -- a cur whom Bummer rescued during a fight one day and who thereafter attached himself to Bummer and went everywhere with him.

From "Mark Twain's San Francisco"

October 20, 1870, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The Emperor Alarmed

Whereas, I, Norton I., Empoeror of all the Visionary Isles, High Cockalorum of Lordnoze what, and Lieutenant-General of the Peripatetics Brigade of San Francisco, having been ingeniously entrapped, by schemes diverse, into reading a sensational article which appeared in various California papers, do, under my imperial hand and seal, promulgate the following:

Emperor Norton.Emperor Norton, Bummer and Lazarus..Proclamation to All My Subjects. l desire and command each and every man, woman, child and pig-tailed Chinaman to instantly (on receipt of this my proclamation) procure and peruse a copy of the deceitful article hereinbefore referred to; and when they shall have patiently cogitated thereon, and understood how their most Imperial Majesty was tricked, duped and fooled, I command my most loyal subjects to attend an indignation meeting at which I, Norton the First, will preside on Friday evening, at 8 o'olock, on the Plaza of San Francisco, to devise means for the suppression of the New York Weekly, in No. 50 of whioh journal originated the story of "Who Owned the Jewels?" the perusal of which has made your thrice illustrious Emperor the laughing stock of nations.

Given under my hand and seal this 19th day of October, 1870.

Emperor of the Visionary Isles, etc.

December 9, 1870, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

Emperor Norton's Rival

The Don Quixote of the News (perhaps he knows that this name is pronounced Donkey-oat-oat, ha! or something like that), after making an amusing and imaginary excursion in defence of the defenceless, has finallycome across the Honorable the City Council of Oakland, which he ridiculously conceives requires his civralic effort to protect and defend against the attacks ot the Oakland correspondent of the Alta.

His last proclamation is contained in the local columns of the News of yesterday; (for the benefit of the public, it is proper to say that the News is a paper published in Oakland, under the auspices of a gentleman connected the city government, at considerable private expence, lightened, somewhat, perhaps, by public patronage, but still at great private expenditure) a proclamation very much resembling in its force (though not in diction) those of the Emperor Norton, who, once in a week or so, finds leisure from his cares, on the western side of the Bay, to come and look after the interests of his subjects on this. [Note: Let it be understood that in these remarks there is no intention to disparage either Emperor Norton or Don Quixote, usually pronouncd Don-key-o-ta.]

The proclamation, however, does not actually forbid the publication of these brief "items" only recommends the propriety of their not being allowed to appear in the columns of ths Alta, the only paper on the coast containing the most important news, and having independent views of the actions of all public bodies. It might be very convenient to have such a chivalrous cuss as the "local" of the News to slobber over anything and everything, just for a little sop; but, public acts have generally been considered public property and subjeot to public oomment, and free public remarks upon the proceedings of an official body of gentlemen, are expected, or ought to be expected from those who write for the public press.

The gratuitous and silly proclamation of the Emperor Norton of the News is especially ridiculous, in that it seeks to defend the private characters of the gentlemen composing the City Council, which have never been attacked, at least not in these "items:" but, if their good character is to depend for its preservation up the Don Quixote of the News, Heaven help them.

May 15, 1875, Pacific Appeal, California


Whereas, Fears are entertained that the complications between Mexico and the Unitod States, will result in a declaration of war; Now, therefore, in order to allay the fears of the good and peaceful people of both nations, His Majesty, Norton I, notifies them that while he is Emperor of the United States he is also Protector of Mexico, he is determined, like his Imperial Brother, the Czar of Russia, to maintain peace, and will have justice done between the two nations without bloodshed.

Norton I.
[Mexican and Spanish papers copy.]

January 11, 1880, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

Viewed by 10,000 Persons Yesterday

The funeral of Joshua A, Norton, the eccentric creature who for twentyfive years has masqueraded in this city as Emperor Norton, took place from 16 O'Farrell street, at 2 o'olook yesterday afternoon. As heretofore stated, the fancied monarch left no property of value, and the city, as a corporation, owed him only a pauper's funeral. Yet there were numerous men of high standing in tbe city who had known him before his monomania made him an object of ridiculous attention; men who bad known him as a clever business associate and a man possessing strong intellectual faculties, who owed him some mark of respect as a relic of early California days of these, Mr. J. O. Eastland, a Pioneer, volunteered to raise a collection to pay tbe expenses of a decent burial, and under his directions the old man was placed in a freeman's grave, if not in a royal tomb. Early yesterday morning,


Flocked toward the Coroner's office to view the imperial clay. The Emperor lay in his coffin, dressed in a black satin satin robe, a white tuberrose placed in the lappel, his moustache and imperial combed neater than he was wont to keep them, and his face blanched in his sleep of death, a ghastly object of attraction. When the time for the funeral arrived an immense gathering was at the door, crowding into the undertaking establishment, and requiring the efforts of several policemen to preserve quiet. At just 2 o'olook. Rev. W. L. Githens, of the Church of the Advent, began to read the Episcopal Burial Service. The first part finished, four choristers from tbe Church chanted "Nearer, My God to Thee," being joined by several voices from those congregated. A prayer ended, the crowd was again admitted and passed by the catafalque in single Use. Several bouquets were laid upon the coffin, and a number of women who had long known Norton as a public character, lingered unpleasantly around tbe remains. In all, nearly


Yesterday. About three o'olook, the casket was closed and borne to the hearse, thence driven to the Masonic Cemetery, where, after Mr. Githens had finished tbe funeral service, it was buried in Mr. Eastland's plot.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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