Taking a trip to the City by the Bay? San Francisco has a long history of eccentric characters. In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton tried to corner the rice market in San Francisco. It didn’t work out as planned. After Norton lost his fortune, he proclaimed himself the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. As self-knighted nobility, Emperor Norton spent his days inspecting the streets of San Francisco while clad in an ornate blue uniform decorated with gold-plated epaulets. He also perched a beaver hat and peacock feather concoction on top of his royal head.
Though penniless, the Emperor regularly dined at the finest restaurants in San Francisco. The eateries celebrated his patronage by adopting a brass plaque declaring “Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I of the United States.” When he died, roughly 30,000 people attended this regal screwball’s funeral. Emperor Norton was one of San Francisco’s original beloved eccentrics.
The City by the Bay has always commemorated colorful characters. The unconventional, peculiar, and unusual icons help define us as an oasis where people are free to embrace oddity. The direct descendents of Emperor Norton have been heralded over the years and continue to live on. Come join The Bold Italic as we celebrate the more notable San Francisco eccentrics, both past and present.
Coining his act “The Wild Man of Borneo,” this hairy-handed gent would often jump out and scream “oofty goofty” in the late 19th century – until the tar he used to attach horsehair to his skin made him ill. Oofty then reinvented himself, devising an act where, for 50 cents, he invited patrons to strike him with a baseball bat. This gig ended when a customer struck him across the back with a pool cue, fracturing two vertebrae.
This walking art project, otherwise known as “Prince Charm,” will be remembered for painting his face and hands red and sporting a devilish Salvador Dali mustache. The Red Man was a fixture at the Latin American Club until he met his demise in 2002 after the food colorings he used to paint himself red poisoned his blood and damaged his internal organs.
You can find this performance tour de force on Valencia Street (and occasionally Haight Street) presenting his one-man “TV show.” Our eccentric hero positions himself inside a makeshift rectangular box populated by puppets and dolls.
Mr. LaVey was the founder and High Priest of the Church of Satan, which came into prominence in the late ’60s. He sometimes made his kids laugh at the dinner table by putting mash potatoes on his head, according to his daughter Karla. In 1997, Anton passed away just short of Halloween, leaving San Francisco with one less eccentric Satanist.
The Brown twins are known for strolling arm in arm around Nob Hill while sporting identically bright, snazzy outfits with flamboyant hats atop their meticulously coiffed hair. Their matching leopard print cowboy hats are tres stylish times two. (Editor’s note: Vivian Brown has passed away since this story was published)
Using his famous 12 Galaxies sign to protest causes that change regularly, Mr. Chu marches along Market Street and through special events. Frank’s local celebrity status soared when the now defunct music club, 12 Galaxies, was named after him.
This well-known entertainer hides behind a bunch of eucalyptus branches, only to jump up and scare the living bejesus out of unsuspecting Fisherman’s Wharf tourists. It’s the same hilarious result every goddamn time.
The Pink Man can be found riding around the streets of SF on a unicycle while wearing a shocking pink unitard. Like a superhero delivered to this planet to fight boredom, this eccentric’s motto is simple: “I pink therefore I am!”
This tall, lanky eccentric always seems to pop up at Burning Man events wearing a T-shirt that says “Plant Trees.” To help further his cause, he hands out actual saplings for revelers to later surround with dirt. He also gives out flyers telling people to plant trees – flyers, it should be noted, that are made out of paper.
Omer can be found along the Valencia Street corridors looking vaguely like Chaka from Land of the Lost . He combines a unique interpretation of guitar playing with original ranting lyrics. Fun fact: Omer broke into Yoko Ono’s apartment in 1986 and was charged with burglary.
Known for his hand-delivered, photocopied newsletters, this ’60s relic can often be found hanging out at Adobe Books on 16th Street sporting a black headband, smoking a Tiparillo, and tending to his pet pigeons. His ranting newsletter, complete with original illustrations, is generally of a higher standard than the city’s daily papers.
Known to some as Gregory Pike, the Dog-Cat-Rat Man delights shutter-clicking tourists around Union Square and the Marina with his animal act. (His little performers go by the names Mousey, Kitty, and Booger.)