Widow Norton’s Colma Pilgrimage – On Scene with Bill Wilson

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The Widow Norton, Empress Jose I at the grave of her beloved Joshua
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

BY BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2010

It is an only in San Francisco event. Nowhere else do they stay up past midnight to crown a new Emperor and Empress and then expect them to be at their first appearance at 9 am!

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Emperor Frankie Fernandez, the San Francisco Treat
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

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Empress Saybeline
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

Despite the prediction of snow, the sun shone brightly as members of the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom band, Cheer SF, the Night Ministry, The Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, Robert Sunshine and his Raindrops, former Empresses and Emperors, and other curious people gathered at the Woodlawn Cemetery to participate in the Widow Norton’s annual pilgrimage to the gravesite of her beloved Emperor Norton.

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The procession to the graveside of Emperor Norton
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

The limousine carrying the Widow Norton and the new Emperor and Empress was followed by clergy from the San Francisco Night Ministry on foot. The Gay and Lesbian Freedom Band provided the mournful cadence and lead the procession of mourners from the entrance to the cemetery to the gravesite.

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Donna Sachet and Jose Cisneros were co-emcees of the ceremony
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

Donna Sachet, Absolute Empress XXX, and San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros were emcees for the ceremony that was conducted near the gravesite. The Reverend Lyle Beckham of the San Francisco Night Ministry provided historical context and ecclesiastical underpinning for the event.

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The new Emperor and Empress escort the Widow Norton
to her front row seat of honor
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

Musical interludes were provided by Brian Benamati, Emperor XXIII after Norton, the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, Robert Sunshine and his Raindrops, and the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band.

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Cheer SF
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

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Frankie Fernandez receives his Emperor medallion from Steve Rascher
and other former Emperors in attendance
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

The one official bit of business that was conducted during the ceremony was the investiture of the new Emperor with his medallion of office. Of course the Widow Norton injected the proper sense decorum as she did a song and dance giving the crowd a glimpse of the old Black Cat magic that she does so well.

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Widow Norton places flowers at the grave of Emperor Norton
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

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The Widow Norton stands next to her tombstone,
which is in front of the one for Emperor Norton
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

After the official ceremony was completed the new Emperor and Empress escorted the Widow Norton is the grave of Joshua Norton where she laid flowers as former Emperors look on.

See Related: On Scene with Bill Wilson Archive

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past six years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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