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Affinities: All the Emperor's Men

Our pictorial study of uniquely Bay Area tribes.


William Stout

(1 of 10)

Rick Saber

(2 of 10)

Joseph Amster

(3 of 10)

 Lester Letson

(4 of 10)

Jeff Hazlett

(5 of 10)

Robert Schultz

(6 of 10)

Jeff Winge

(7 of 10)

Joseph Casarez

(8 of 10)

John Ortiz

(9 of 10)

Bob Proctor

(10 of 10)


See all the Affinities photo shoots here.

“It's often said that we’re a historical society with a drinking problem,” muses Bob Proctor, 69, the Noble Grand Humbug of E Clampus Vitus’s Yerba Buena Lodge. “But we’re more of a drinking society with a history problem.”

Proctor, a retired San Quentin corrections officer, became a so-called Clamper in 2009. E Clampus Vitus, which arrived in San Francisco in the 1930s, claims two chapters in the Bay Area and an estimated 85,000 members in California. The men pay homage to Emperor Norton, a legendary San Francisco eccentric who, in the 1850s, declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. “He was outrageous, forward-thinking, and colorful,” says Proctor. “We Clampers tend to be a little...politically incorrect.”

Every year, the chapters stage several “plaquings” to honor local sites of oddball historic significance. (The Yerba Buena chapter recently plaqued the Willowbrook Ale House in Petaluma, a boozy stagecoach stop in the 1880s.) The group’s annual kickoff event is Norton Day, in early January, when several hundred Clampers, clad in their red-and-black finest, convene at the late emperor’s grave in Colma. “There’s a brass band and some important speechifying,” says Proctor. They then retire to nearby Molloy’s Tavern, where they toast, socialize, and don commemorative pins. “We welcome everybody: doctors, garbagemen, sailors, you name it,” says Proctor. The foremost requirement is a serious appreciation for preserving history. “We’re even so liberal that we allow lawyers in,” Proctor adds magnanimously. “Not many, though—can’t have too many lawyers at a time in one place.”


Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco

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