Spirit of America Bookstore

Emperor  Norton  I

Emperor Norton reigned over the City of San Francisco, California for twenty years.

short profile

works about Emperor Norton

movies, plays, other media

image gallery

family & friends


             portrait photograph of Emperor Norton I [1819-80], circa 1870

"Everybody understands Mickey Mouse. Few understand Hermann Hesse. Only a handful understand Albert Einstein.
And nobody understood Emperor Norton."  — slogan of the San Francisco branch of the Discordian Society

          B I O
          t e x t
          h e r e

          It was Emperor Norton who started a holiday tradition when he put up the first public Christmas tree in America.

Emperor Norton entry at Wikipedia
Emperor Norton data at Internet Movie Database is inaccurate

Works About Emperor Norton

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Emperor Norton, Life & Experiences 1927 book by Albert Dressler  "Emperor Norton of United States: Life and Experiences of A Notable Character In San Francisco, 1849-1880" [1927] by Albert Dressler
self-publd hardcover [1927] long out of print/used
self-publd limited edition hardcover [1927] long out of print/used
Forgotten Characters of Old San Francisco 1964 book by Robert E. Cowan  "The Forgotten Characters of Old San Francisco: Including The Famous Bummer & Lazarus and Emperor Norton" [1938]
by Robert Ernest Cowan, Anne Bancroft & Addie L. Ballou

Ward Ritchie Press 9x6 hardcover [1964] out of print/used
Ward Ritchie Press 9x6 hardcover [1964] out of print/used
Emperor Norton, Mad Monarch of America 1939 book by Allen Stanley Lane  "Emperor Norton: The Mad Monarch of America" [1939]
by Allen Stanley Lane

considered the definitive biography
Caxton Printers, Ltd. hardcover [1939] long out of print/used
San Francisco's Emperor Norton 1939 book by David Warren Ryder   "San Francisco's Emperor Norton: The Story of Norton I, Emperor of America and Protector of Mexico" [1939] by David Warren Ryder
self-publd 9x6 pb [1939] long out of print/used
53-page Alex Dulfer Printing & Lithography 8½x5½ pb [1939] long out of print/used
Magnificent British Eccentrics book by Catherine Caufield  "The Emperor of The United States of America and Other Magnificent British Eccentrics" [1981] by Catherine Caufield, Drawings by Peter Till
Law Book Co. of Australasia hardcover [10/81] out of print/many used
St. Martin's Press 9¼x6¼ hardcover [3/82] out of print/used
St. Martin's Press 9½x6 hardcover [10/81] out of print/used
Norton I, Emperor of The United States book by William Drury  "Norton I, Emperor of The United States: A Biography of One of America's Most Colorful Eccentrics" [1986] by William Drury, Foreword by Melvin M. Belli
Dodd, Mead & Co. 9¼x6½ hardcover [1986] out of print/used
Rush of Dreamers Emperor Norton novel by John Cech  "A Rush of Dreamers: Being The Remarkable Story of Norton I, Emperor of The United States and Protector of Mexico - A Novel" [1997] by John Cech
Marlowe & Co. 8x5 hardcover [12/97] out of print/used
Marlowe & Co. 8x5 hardcover [12/97] out of print/used
Magnificent Rogues of San Francisco book by Charles F. Adams  "The Magnificent Rogues of San Francisco: A Gallery of Fakers and Frauds, Rascals and Robber Barons, Scoundrels and Scalawags" [1998] by Charles F. Adams
Emperor Norton is pictured on the book's cover and chapter 3 is devoted to him
Kindle Edition from The Write Thought [6/2012] for $2.99 {sic}
The Write Thought 9x6 pb [8/2012] for $14.04
Pacific Book Publng hardcover [11/98] out of print/used
The Imaginary Emperor of Old San Francisco book by Steve Bartholomew  "The Imaginary Emperor: A Tale of Old San Francisco" [2011]
by Steve Bartholomew

Kindle Edition from Untreed Reads Publng [6/2011] for $2.99 {sic}
Dark Gopher Books 9x6 pb [5/2011] for $8.98
Emperor of San Francisco book by Paul Rosenblatt  "The Emperor of San Francisco and The Territory Beyond: A Novel" [2012]
by Paul Rosenblatt

Kindle Edition from Bowen Books [1/2012] for $4.99
CreateSpace 8x5¼ pb [1/2012] for $16.95
An Emperor Among Us book by David St. John  "An Emperor Among Us: A Novel - The Eccentric Life and Benevolent Reign of Norton I, Emperor of The United States, As Told by Mark Twain" [2012] by David St. John
Members of the Monday Evening Club of Hartford, Connecticut are surprised when member Samuel Clemens changes his mind and instead of reading a new article on lying regales them with the life story of one Emperor Norton of San Francisco
iUniverse 8½x5½ pb [11/2012] for $13.95
iUniverse 8½x5½ hardcover [11/2012] for $23.95
The Emperor's Tree in Kindle format by Robert Meyerson  "The Emperor's Tree: An American Christmas Story" [2014]
Written & Illustrated by Robert Meyerson

Told from the viewpoint of Emperor Norton's companion street dogs; the {uncorroborated} tale of self-declared Emperor Norton I of San Francisco's creation of the first-ever public Christmas tree display
Kindle Edition from Amazon Digital Services [10/2014] for $2.99

"The Original San Francisco Eccentric" October 2014 article by Jeff Campagna (with drawings)

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Appearances  in  Literature

Mark Twain's 1885 novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"
Emperor Norton inspired the character of 'the King'

Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1892 novel "The Wrecker", written with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne
Emperor Norton appears as himself

Charles Bukowski's 1975 novel "Factotum"
one of the lesser characters is composing an opera about Emperor Norton

"The Palace at Midnight" a 1981 short story by Robert Silverberg
features a post-apocalyptic California with an Empire of San Francisco;
the Emperor at the time of the story is a decrepit and senile Norton the Seventh

"Dark Hearts of Chicago" [2007] by William Horwood & Helen Rappaport
the character of Mr. Crazy is based on Emperor Norton

'Emperor Norton's Treasure Hunt' children's book by Shayne & William Durkin  "Emperor Norton's Treasure Hunt" children's book [2014] by Shayne & William Durkin
William Durkin often told stories to his daughter Shayne, and at age ten she asked him to help her publish one of them as a children's book; a newspaper contest in 1955 triggers a search by thieves for the treasure of Emperor Norton, but only a gang of zoo animals - a monkey, a zonkey, a pair of macaws, and a baby seal - stand in their way . . .
Kindle Edition from Amazon Digital Services [10/2014] for $4.95
CreateSpace 9x6 pb [9/2014] for $15.95
sequel 'The Emperor Returns' children's book by Shayne & William Durkin  sequel "The Emperor Returns" children's book [2016] by Shayne & William Durkin
Author is now twelve years old; when Russia launches the Sputnik satellite in 1957, a group of sixth-graders react differently than the adults . . .
Kindle Edition from Amazon Digital Services [7/2016] for $4.95
CreateSpace 9x6 pb [9/2016] for $16.95

Movies, Stageplays, Other Media
'Emperor Norton in popular culture' page at Wikipedia

The Emperor Norton Awards [2003-2011] for "extraordinary invention and creativity unhindered by the constraints of paltry reason"
were given out by Tachyon Publications [est. 1995] and Borderlands Books [est. 1997], both of San Francisco

'Sons of Emperor Norton' rockabilly band [est. 1998] based in Oakland/East Bay
'Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band' [est. 2007], an eclectic jazz and performance art band based in Boston
'Emperor Norton's Jazz Band' [est. 2007], a Dixieland ensemble that performs all over the Bay Area

®           ®
Stageplays & Operas

"The Duke of Sacramento: A Comedy in Four Acts" [1856] by Warren Baer
a stageplay based on the 'pre-Imperial' career of Joshua Abraham Norton

"Norton The First: or, An Emperor For A Day" comic opera [1861]
opening production at the new Tucker's Hall in San Francisco

a still-unperformed opera (or musical) based on Norton's life composed in the 1950s
by Robert B. Aird [1903-2000], founding chairman of the Neurology Department at University of California at San Francisco

"Emperor Norton: Opera in One Act" [1981]
music by Henry Mollicone, libretto by John S. Bowman
opera entry at 'Opera America' database
premiered in 1981 by San Francisco Opera’s Brown Bag Company
also performed in October 1990 by the West Bay Opera Company of Palo Alto
E.C.S. Publng pb piano/vocal score [1971 sic] out of print/scarce

Emperor Norton Command Performance 97th Grove Play playscript by Howard Guy Ervin & Richard Walsh   "Emperor Norton: A Command Performance (The 97th Grove Play)" [1992]
by Howard Guy Ervin, Edward W. Pliska & Richard Walsh

The all-male Bohemian Club was established in 1872 and soon purchased the 2,400-acre Bohemian Grove property in Monte Rio (Sonoma County), California They began holding a Summer Encampment in July, and each such event traditionally includes a stage performance of some kind. The 97th Grove Play had as its topic Emperor Norton.
69-page Bohemian Club 9x6 hardcover [2002] out of print/used
"Emperor Norton of The U.S.A.: An Opera" [1999]
music by Jerome Rosen, libretto by James Schevill
premiered in June 1999 at Celeste Turner Wright Hall, U.C. Davis, California, conducted by D. Kern Holoman
94-minute special edition audio CD [1999] 2 disks - out of prodn/scarce

poster for 'Emperor Norton: A New Musical' 2005  "Emperor Norton: A New Musical" [2005]
Premiered at San Francisco's Dark Room Theater [2004-2015] in December 2005 and ran for three months; revised version presented in July 2006 at the San Francisco Theater Festival, and a further-revised production began a three-month run at the Shelton Theater in January 2007
Produced by Erin Ohanneson, written by Kim Axelrod-Ohanneson, music & lyrics by Martin Ohanneson-Axelrod, directed by Jim Fourniadis
Also performed at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre in North Hollywood in November 2009

I, Norton avant garde 'opera' on CD  "I, Norton: An Opera In Real Time" performance work [2006] by Gino Robair
Composer calls the work an opera, but it is clearly an avant garde performance piece
Rastascan Records audio CD [1/2010] 7 tracks for $11.73
Rastascan Records MP3 music download [1/2010] for $8.99
official opera website
watch performance at 2009 SFO Electronic Music Festival [10/2009 upload; 36:56] at YouTube

"Norton: The Astonishingly True Story of America's Forgotten Emperor" musical stageplay [2010]
full-length musical performed at Denison University in Ohio; book, music & lyrics by Bobby McGlynn; directed by Erica Hughes
watch live performance video [12/2012 upload; 1:36:03] online at Vimeo

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Story of Norton I 1936 short film  "The Story of Norton I: Emperor of The United States" [Columbia Pictures Dec 1936]
9-minute b/w short film; part of the "Stranger Than Fiction" series originated by John Hix [1907-44] (from his long-running syndicated "Strange As It Seems" cartoon panel); reissued in 1947 by Academic Film Company for the 16mm non-theatrical rental market
Produced by Richard C. Kahn; adapted by Sherman Rogers; no entry found at IMDb
2016 article about the 1936 short film at The Emperor's Bridge website
view large 22 April 1934 cartoon panel in new window

"Emperor Norton, 1st" [June 1956] Season 4 Episode 21 of the "Death Valley Days" TV series [1952–1970]
Directed by Stuart E. McGowan; written by Ruth Woodman; hosted by Stanley Andrews as The Old Ranger; starring Parker Garvie, Pat O'Hara, Mauritz Hugo,
Charles Heard, Michael Barrett, Sam Flint, George Milan, Leonard Penn • full credits at IMDb

"Around The World In Eighty Days" [United Artists Oct 1956]
During the San Francisco sequence, an actor dressed to resemble Emperor Norton's regalia and accompanied by two dogs is briefly seen leading a torchlight parade.

special guest star Sam Jaffe on 'Bonanza'  "The Emperor Norton" [Feb 1966] Season 7 Episode 23
of the "Bonanza" color TV series [1959-73]

While a guest at the Ponderosa Ranch, Emperor Norton involves himself in local mining safety issues and is accused of being insane • Directed by William F. Claxton; story consultant Denne Bart Petitclerc; music by David Rose; series regulars Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, Ray Teal, Victor Sen Yung; also starring Sam Jaffe {as Joshua Norton}, Parley Baer, John Napier, Charles Irving, Tom Palmer, Audrey Larkins & William Challee {as Mark Twain} • full credits at IMDb
watch segment from "Bonanza" TV show episode "The Emperor Norton" [8:43] at YouTube

watch 8/2008 "Emperor of The United States" slideshow [6:35] online at YouTube
watch 3/2012 slideshow by Stephen Pyx [4:45] online at Internet Archive

"Norton The First: America's Emperor" documentary feature film [in development]
to be produced & directed by Jesse Chandler of Adjective Entertainment in San Francisco
Kickstarter campaign [expired 12/2014] • funding campaign video [3:43]

Image  Gallery

Emperor Norton 50-cent note         Emperor Norton eccentric Belgian-style ale from Almanac Brewing Co. in San Jose, California         color photograph from the San Francisco walking tour, possibly from Coit Tower looking west

Family & Friends
Joshua Abraham Norton was born in England on 4 February 1818; he arrived in San Francisco, California in November 1849; he went mad and
declared himself Emperor of the United States on 17 September 1859, then reigned until his death on 8 January 1880.

Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain worked as a journalist in San Francisco, California from 1864 to 1866; whether he ever met Emperor Norton is unclear,
but Norton's reputation provided inspiration for the character of 'the King' in Twain's 1885 novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn".

rat-catching street dogs Bummer & Lazarus
while Emperor Norton's 'ownership' of the two street dogs is mythical, it is true that the three often traveled together around San Francisco

Bummer and Lazarus short story in Kindle format  "Bummer and Lazarus: Famous Stray Mongrels of 1860s San Francisco" [1883]
short story by Sir Samuel White Baker

Kindle Edition from Amazon Digital Services [10/2016] for 99¢

Part of the myth surrounding Emperor Norton is the suggestion that he had an affair with Lola Montez, the notorious dancer and actress (also known as the Duchess of Landsfield).
Born in Ireland in 1821, she lived in California from May 1853 to June 1855, went to Australia, returned to America for a lecture tour (1856 to 1858), settled in Philadelphia
in 1859, and died in Brooklyn in 1861 at age 39. A Norton-Montez affair in the 1850s was possible, but then and later not likely.

Minnie Rae Lacey Simpson [c. 1860-??]
Emperor Norton became concerned that Minnie Rae, an extremely young orphaned prostitute, was being mistreated, so he declared her 'The Little Countess', circa early 1870s.
According to the Encyclopedia of World Knowledge, she traveled to the United Kingdom where she met young James Barrie, who was born the same year that she then claimed.
She is said to be {uncorroborated} the model for his character of Wendy in the Peter Pan stageplays & novels. She left San Francisco in 1873 and later details are unknown.
A series of interviews by an anonymous journalist became the 1875 book "My Life As A Child Prostitute: The Autobiography of Minnie Rae"; the initial printing was small,
and a San Francisco preacher gathered up all the copies and burned them in 1880 – except for one copy obtained by her son, which has since been lost.
2014 blog article by Maggie McNeill (with photos)

L i n k s
Emperor Norton entry at Wikipedia
'Emperor Norton in popular culture' page at Wikipedia
Emperor Norton data at Internet Movie Database is inaccurate
The Emperor's Bridge Campaign [est. 9/2013]

Joel's fansite {last update 2000?}
Emperor Norton Records mirror page {site hacked, only partially fixed}
same site Emperor Norton bio page
Emperor Norton's Fantastic Time Machine walking tour [est. 2011] in San Francisco, California
Emperor Norton's Boozeland [open 2013] theme bar, 510 Larkin Street (Tenderloin District) in San Francisco, California

a previous iteration of San Francisco Brewing Co. [est. 2012] made a Munich-style amber lager called "Emperor Norton Lager", circa 2004
Emperor Norton eccentric Belgian-style ale from Almanac Brewing Co. [est. 2010] in San Jose, California
Emperor Norton Absinthe [est. 2011] is hand-made in San Francisco, California

here on the Emperor Norton I [1818-80] Page at Spirit of America Bookstore

top of page • short profile • works about Emperor Norton • movies, plays, other media • image gallery • family & friends • links

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