San Francisco has a long history of celebrating its freaks— or eccentrics if you want to be PC about it, which we don’t. Perhaps the most famous San Francisco freak of all time is Emperor Norton. A freak on the scene from way back in the mid/late eighteen hundreds, Emperor Norton (born Joshua Abraham Norton), declared himself “Emperor of these United States” and “Protector of Mexico”, and walked the streets in his elaborate military uniform, doing inspections of the city and giving lengthy philosophical explanations to anyone who would listen.
Mentally unbalanced? By all accounts. But his regal presence and proclamations made him one of San Francisco’s most beloved characters. He even had currency issued in his name which was honored at establishments he frequented, including some of the city’s finest restaurants. Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson immortalized him in book characters based on him. And the day after he died, nearly 30,000 people took to the streets to honor him. If you’re interested in more true bizarreness, there’s plenty on his wikipedia page.
Today, the closest thing San Francisco has to an Emperor Norton has got to be Frank Chu (aka the 12 Galaxies guy).
Much like Emperor Norton, Frank is very well known and much beloved. Like Norton, he’s also leading a crusade against the government—albeit a much more bizarre one.
Every day for over ten years, Frank has taken to the streets of San Francisco by himself with his sign to protest various US presidents, corporations, and the “12 Galaxies”—a galaxy far from our own where he’s the star of a hit reality TV show called “The Richest Family”. Currently, he’s protesting not being paid $20 billion in back royalties for “The Richest Family”. The government is also embezzling his sex life, among other things.
His normal protest route goes through downtown San Francisco. But he’ll also show up at pretty much any organized protest in the city. So, if you’re protesting something, want him or not, this guy’s protesting with you. He’ll also turn up at most big public happenings (street fairs, Bay to Breakers, the Lacy Peterson trail…). Anywhere there’s cameras to promote his cause.
Eventually, Frank became a minor San Francisco celebrity. During the dot com boom, he began capitalizing on it by selling advertising on the back side of his sign. According to wikipedia, as of May 2005 his going rate was $100 a week. A few years later, a nightclub in the Mission district called 12 Galaxies was named in his honor. Frank receives free admission for life (of the club anyway) and all the Budweiser he can drink.
So, when my friend Matt and I spotted Frank at the 2nd annual Bike Music Festival, we had to get an update on him. Apologies for the shit audio. All we had on us was our point-and-shoot digicams.
Frank Chu at the 2nd annual Bike Music Festival
If you want to know the real story on Frank. Like what his clinical diagnosis is, his murky back story, and how he supports himself, check out this amazing little documentary. The guy that made it also made this pretty cool DJ Shadow fan music video using footage of Frank walking around the city.
For more of San Francisco's freakiest, check out this blog dedicated to them.