He reigned for about forty years. During that time he ate in all of the finest restaurants and slept in the finest hotels for free — because he was the Emperor. He had three seats permanently reserved in the front row of the San Francisco opera house — one for him, and one each for his two dogs.

This is about self-proclaimed “Emperor Norton”, whom I’d never heard of. But what do I know, as I’m not from The City?

But before I place a link here, anyone know if this is true?


  1. I can only say that I’ve heard of him – first back in the late ’70s, I think, but in a past-tense kind of way. He was kind of like a homeless person who got away with it, is the feeling I had. I believe I first heard of him in high school, but then, I went to Homestead. 🙂 Lynbrook was obviously lacking in their Kooks and Characters curriculum…

  2. Oh, we might have had that and I might not have been paying attention. Or maybe I was let out of class to go practice! (Yes, sometimes I did manage to get away with that.)

  3. Of course, Emperor Norton is quite a legend here in San Francisco. He was the one who published the decree banning the use of “Frisco” for SF. The SF Board of Supervisors actually passed a resolution calling for the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge to be renamed the Emperor Norton Bridge (since he was the first to call for a cross-bay bridge and tunnel, back in the 19th century no less!). Sadly, the Oakland City Council rejected that proposal, and since it’s a bridge, it takes two to tango…
    Supposedly, the character of the King in Twain’s Huck Finn is based on Emperor Norton. Also, Norton’s self-printed currency now commands big bucks at auctions – real collectibles!

  4. On re-reading my above response, I want to say that I did not mean to imply anything negative about the Emperor or his position in San Francisco – rather I have nothing but admiration for him. In fact, after doing a little Wiki-research to confirm my increasingly-feeble memories, I’m starting to wonder if maybe we’re the kooks and he had it right all along.

  5. But I still can’t help about the reserved-seats thing, sorry – just like to read myself blathering along. It does seem that he only reigned from 1859 until his death in 1880 (closer to 20 years than 40, unless my math skills are even feebler than I thought).

  6. The SF Opera was not created by then in 1880. Its founder, Gaetano Merola, wasn’t even born! Merola 1881-1953; SFO; 1923-now. Maybe there was a precursor to it.