Portrait of Emperor Norton – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura

Portrait of Emperor Norton

A mysterious painting of the self-declared Emperor of the United States watches over a local hof-brau. 


“Who’s the dead guy in the painting?”

“Emperor Norton”

Edward Norton? That doesn’t look anything like Edward Norton.”

From above the bar, tucked in above the TV showing the ball game, a portrait of a grumpy-looking fellow in an old-timey outfit looks out over Tommy’s Joynt, giving unknowing patrons at the bar a decidedly beady eyeball.

To the discerning San Franciscan, it is easy to determine that that beady eyeballed fellow is none other than Joshua Norton, the one-time self-declared Emperor of the United States and protector of Mexico. Norton is San Francisco’s eccentric patron saint, having arrived in the city in 1849 where, like many early entrepreneurs, he saw his fortune lost in unlucky investments. Unlike them, after a short absence, Norton reemerged in the city in glorious eccentricity, declared himself the Emperor of the United States and began his benevolent reign of bold declarations, political proclamations, and quickly became a beloved, if odd, man about town.

Despite the regal presence, the portrait can be easy to miss in the riot of an interior that is Tommy’s Joynt, a local family-owned hof-brau on Van Ness and Geary. No one at Tommy’s seems to know where the painting came from or when it was added to the hodgepodge interior.

Another portrait of Norton is located in Maxfield’s Pied Piper Bar at the Palace Hotel on Market Street. He is buried in Colma at Woodlawn Cemetery, where he is visited annually by admirers to this day.

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January 7, 2013

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