Wandering Al the Druid visits Emperor Norton’s Grave
A Letter Dated Tuesday December 17th, 2002

Hey Kids—
Since I missed you at Samhain I’m dropping this note to keep you updated on my wanderings. I’m writing this at the Marriott in San Fran, poolside—can you smell the chlorine? Lots of tattoos and various shades of human skin on display. Today I made my pilgrimage to Emperor Norton’s grave. Lacking access to a car I walked a block to the Bay Area Rapid Transit station, paid a reasonable $4.50 for a round-trip ticket and rode to the end of the line, past Balboa Park and Daly City to Colma. A light rain was falling as I exited the train station over the pedestrian bridge to the commuter parking-lot. From there the sign for Woodlawn Cemetery is already visible. But it’s the backside of the graveyard—not the main entrance. I follow the chainlink fence until I find a sizeable gap a few hundred feet to the left. I must then scramble up a muddy embankment, my feet being sucked into the soft earth.... The San Francisco bay area has been inundated with almost a week of rain every day. The day I arrived three inches fell and the storm knocked the satellite dish off the top of the hotel.

Now inside the enormous memorial park I soon encounter two gravediggers—comic characters of course, like in Hamlet—who speak only Spanish but who nevertheless point me in the right direction. Passing the graves of Gulf-war casualties, babies less than 1 year old and Vietnamese refugees, I take in the spectacular scenery of the coastal hills and mountains. Narrowing my focus, another green-suited cemetery worker (one with a more, shall we say, “grave” demeanor) [ouch!] clearly delineates the object of my trek. Within moments I find the marker to my hero Joshua Norton. A picture of the gravestone can be found by Google-searching “Emperor Norton’s Grave” but the small details you notice by going there add immeasurably to the experience. I scribble some notes on a paper in my pocket, pray to my guardian angel, then sing ring-around-the-rosie as I skip around old Norton’s tomb. I fall to the rainy lawn reborn.

Some of my notes follow:

-the gravestone next to Norton: 2 mundanes– George and Nellie Rechter. What is their story?
-the grave in front of Norton: Jose Sarria. The stone reads “Empress Norton. The Widow Norton” Also a quote is carved– United We Stand, Divided they catch us one by one.” And a birthdate, in 1922. No death date. Jose Sarria was a drag queen and the first openly gay candidate for San Fran city council. Styled him/her-self “Empress Norton” and is buried at the foot of her consort who died without knowing his queen. Norton was a lifelong bachelor.
-small plaque near Empress Norton’s grave commemorates “Horst Gunter Josef Eichner His Imperial Highness First Baron of San Francisco April 5 1930.” I have no information on this man.
-some items left on Norton’s grave: a penny; a small American flag; 2 rubber duckies; an apple-shaped pin; a votive candle; a small heraldic symbol and a ribbon that looks like it came off of a liquor bottle.

Back in the city, the holiday rush is in full swing. Giant tree in Union Square. Displays in the windows of Macy’s and the other corporate megastores. Emperor Norton rests peacefully outside the city limits– all graves were moved outside the city in the 1930’s. I’m dry now but I’m about to swim six more laps in the pool. Hope to see you on December 28th. Happy Yule!

—Love from your wandering Druid pal Al

For more information on Emperor Norton visit http://jubal.westnet.com/hyperdiscordia/emperor_norton.html or http://www.zpub.com/sf/history/nort.html.
For more info on Wandering Al, come to GOG’s winter and Spring rituals.