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Colma, California: Emperor Norton Grave

America's only emperor (self-proclaimed) is buried in a relatively modest grave.

Woodlawn Cemetery

1000 El Camino Real, Colma, CA
In Woodlawn Cemetery, which is on the west side of El Camino Real, just south of F Street. Norton's place of interment is slightly to your left and near the rear of the expansive property.
Gated after hours. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
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Emperor and Empress Norton graves.

Emperor Norton Grave

Unlike previously stated, Emperer Norton is not halfway through or near the front, but rather near the back. The map you can get from the office has his grave site marked on it.

[SethOnTheRoad, 08/06/2017]

Jose Sarria, Empress Norton grave.

Emperor Norton Grave

The second grave of the self-described Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He was a colorful character in the later half of nineteen century of San Francisco. Worth a pilgrimage for the fun of it, but don't expect a grand tomb. A fairly simple headstone between two small trees. At his feet, don't miss the grave of Jose Sarria, the 20th century drag queen who declared himself The Widow Norton and founded the Imperial Court system of charity organizations.

[Bob, 10/22/2016]
Emperor Norton Grave

The grave is a little hard to find, it's surrounded by other graves written in Chinese near the front of the cemetery on the left (left if you're standing in the gate looking into the cemetery). Look for the little bushes growing on either side of the grave to help you find it.

Also be sure to check out his wife, the Empress Norton's grave, right in front of his, along with plaques for their children with assorted royal titles.

[Laura, 05/11/2016]

Norton I tombstone.

Emperor Norton I Grave

Lots of men can lay claim to the fact they once were presidents of this great country. But how many people have ever been crowned "Emperor of the United States?"

As far as we know, only one, and it happened in 1859.

His name was Joshua Norton and he migrated from England to San Francisco in 1849. A "mini-Bill Gates" of the day, Norton quickly amassed a small fortune only to see it all slip away by 1858, when he found himself penniless.

Vacating society for nine months, Norton returned in 1859, proudly clutching a written proclamation declaring him "Emperor of the United States," as duly appointed by the citizens of this great land. The San Francisco Bulletin (a regional newspaper at the time) printed Norton's bizarre announcement.

More astounding was the fact that San Franciscans citywide embraced Norton's reign. A local print shop circulated monetary notes (the same as cash) in Norton's name. With said "legal specie," the self-proclaimed emperor was able to dine at the finest of restaurants and shop in the most extravagant markets. The Grand Hotel provided free lodging.

During his tenure, Norton singlehandedly dissolved congress, eradicated the union, worked toward relieving the Bible of what he deemed "false lights" and pronounced himself official "Protector of Mexico." Among Norton's lesser accomplishments was a moratorium on the word "frisco" (which San Franciscans despise). According to royal decree, anybody found using the repugnant "f word" would be fined twenty-five dollars which, of course, was retained by the coffers of the imperial treasury.

Norton dressed ornately in regal naval attire, performing daily "inspections" of local neighborhoods. According to the tale, our one-time emperor had more sway with people than you might imagine, calming would-be rioters using nothing more than words.

In 1880, Norton collapsed and perished. During a funeral befitting a king, a procession two miles long was comprised of more than thirty-thousand mourners. a local business association outfitted Norton with the finest of rosewood caskets, while San Francisco, itself, footed the bill for his funerary service and regional newspapers ran obituaries with headlines reading the likes of "the king is dead."

Norton l's grave is at the Woodlawn Cemetery.

[Paul Bottini, 06/27/2008]
Emperor Norton Grave

I highly recommend that visitors to San Francisco, CA, take a jaunt just south to Colma (in fact, when friends visit, I physically enforce this recommendation). Colma is known for having more people under the ground than above it -- with land being at a premium in San Francisco, all but a couple tiny historic cemeteries in the city were dug up and relocated back in the 30's or so. Not only is a city of nothing but cemeteries eminently cool to begin with (and the theme cemeteries -- Syrian, animal, etc. are a nice bonus), but there are at least two real luminaries there.

One is Emperor Norton -- Victorian era loony and beloved civic symbol, whose plain headstone (in Woodlawn Cemetery) simply reads: "Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico." The folks at the cemetery office tell me that every year there is a HUGE birthday celebration for him there.

The other is Wyatt Earp -- who is buried in the Jewish Cemetery down the road (closed on Saturdays) with his Jewish wife. When I visited the first time, they had a plain little ground level plaque. When I went back the next year to show my kid, danged if there wasn't a big, poshy new upright headstone, in front of which some admirers had placed cigars and poker chips -- he's still got admirers!

[Sadie O., 12/22/1997]

Nearby Offbeat Places

Mystery TombstoneMystery Tombstone, Colma, CA - < 1 mi.
Virgin Mary Image in a TreeVirgin Mary Image in a Tree, Colma, CA - < 1 mi.
Wyatt Earp and Levi Strauss TombsWyatt Earp and Levi Strauss Tombs, Colma, CA - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Flintstone House, Hillsborough, CA - 12 mi.

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