Historians with a flair for the romantic place these two hounds at the side of San Francisco’s most colorful hero, Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States and protector of Mexico, but they were, in fact, free agents with a story of their own.
In a city with strict anti-stray dog policies, Bummer and Lazarus had carte blanche to do as they pleased. Their friendship was legendary and their rat-killing skills celebrated. The local newspapers chronicled their escapades and the citizens of Emperor Norton’s city loved them. The San Francisco Bulletin referred to them as “two dogs with but a single bark, two tails that wagged as one.” They were, in fact, so loved that when a new dog catcher unwisely captured Lazarus on June 14th, 1862 an angry mob demanded his release until the city supervisor gave in, releasing Lazarus and declaring that he and his best mate Bummer were above all the city’s anti-stray laws and could roam the city free.
Lazarus met his end in October of 1863 and was eulogized in the Daily Evening Bulletin. Cartoons of this funeral exaggerated the number of people who showed up but not the sentiment of the city. His body was taxidermied and placed on display behind the bar at Martin’s Saloon, where he and Bummer often begged for scraps.
Bummer continued to roam the city, taking up with a black pup, until November 1865 when he died after being kicked by Henry Ripper – who was immediately arrested for fear of retaliatory violence. Hearing of Bummer’s demise, Mark Twain, once a San Francisco newspaper columnist, wrote a beautiful eulogy entitled “Exit Bummer” for the Virgina City Enterprise which was then reprinted in the Californian.
It is no wonder that romantic historians want to associate San Francisco’s favorite stray dogs with its favorite eccentric royalty. These stories seem the perfect fairytale when intertwined, but they are unique and separate stories of amazing lives in a wild city. When the well-known cartoon of the three perusing a free lunch counter together was published, Emperor Norton I was reported to have smashed the window with his cane, furious that he, an emperor, was depicted eating lunch with strays.
Today, a small plaque located in the Redwood Grove park next to the Transamerica Pyramid pays homage to their one-time fame.
Visit San Francisco with Atlas Obscura Trips
Hip-Hop, Hippies, and Robots: Invention and Reinvention in San Francisco
We'll set out together, September 19-21, to explore unusual galleries, test our cocktail-making skills, and visit the city's best unofficial museum.