137th Anniversary of Emperor Norton’s Death Being Honored With Memorial Walk

30,000 mourners attended Emperor Norton's funeral in 1880.

(Credit: Tom Hilton/Flickr)

Aficionados of San Francisco history, eccentric characters and walking in the rain, listen up: this Sunday fans of Emperor Norton will gather for a memorial walk, celebrating the memory of America’s only Emperor.

For those unfamiliar: Emperor Norton was a businessman who arrived in San Francisco way back in 1849. He lost his vast fortune to a bad investment in rice, spurring his disappearance from the city for ten years before returning with the self-proclaimed title “Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.”

Never a city to dismiss a kooky imagination, San Francisco embraced Norton’s new form of self-expression, allowing him to dine for free, produce his own currency, and get the best seats in the theater.

Norton passed away on Jan. 8, 1880, and his funeral was rumored to have been attended by 30,000 mourners.

Sunday’s event will no doubt draw a slightly smaller crowd, but it should still be a memorable and unique celebration of a whimsical man’s life.  The walk is being organized and led by Joseph Amster, San Francisco’s resident expert on Emperor Norton, who will be dressed up as the man’s curious attire.

If this sounds right up your alley, just be sure you bundle up in raingear: San Francisco is expected to get seven inches of rain this weekend, though with any luck (and a little Emperor Norton magic) it’ll clear up by the time the crowd gathers.

The Fourth Annual Emperor Norton Memorial Walk will gather at Commercial Street between Kearny and Montgomery Streets, at 7:45 p.m. on Jan. 8. Amster will lead participants on a candlelight reenactment of Emperor Norton’s final stroll, tracing his steps from Commercial Street, down Kearny Street and then up California Street, to the corner of California Street and Grant Avenue, where Emperor Norton passed away at 8:15 p.m.

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