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Thread: Emperor Norton - true story

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Ft. Worth

    Default Emperor Norton - true story

    Know your history. Meet Joshua Norton, the self-proclaimed "Emperor of the United States" in 1850's San Fransisco. He was fun, he was news, but was he sane? San Franciscans speculated, especially when his backstory emerged. Joshua Abraham Norton had been born in England, raised in South Africa. He came to the city with other ‘49ers and made a fortune in real estate and commodities.

    Then in 1852, he tried to corner the market on rice. He lost it all, including lawsuits that went to the state Supreme Court. And he may have lost his mind. By 1858, he was holed up in a boarding house with two stray dogs that became his constant companions. What followed was either lunacy or a most American rebirth. No one, not even the great writers then working for San Francisco newspapers knew for sure.

    By 1860, the Emperor Norton was a celebrity. Soldiers gave him a uniform, blue with gold epaulets. In full military dress, with a fine beaver hat and cane, he strode the streets inspecting public works, keeping an eye on cops, and just being imperial.

    Insane, perhaps, but some of the Emperor’s decrees made sense. Abolish Congress? An idea whose time had come! Slap a 25-cent fine on anyone “heard to utter the abominable word ‘Frisco’”? All for it. And then there was the bridge.

    The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened in 1936. But back in 1872, the Emperor Norton decreed “that a suspension bridge be built from Oakland Point to Goat Island, and thence to Telegraph Hill.” Six months later, the Emperor decreed that a tunnel be built under the bay. The tunnel now carries BART, the Bay Area’s subway. In hindsight, is this the ramblings of a madman ?

    In his final years, the Emperor supported himself by selling his own bonds on the street. San Francisco, meanwhile, made the former commodities tycoon a commodity himself. Tourists bought Emperor Norton postcards, dolls, cigars. . . “San Francisco lived off the Emperor Norton,” Norton’s biographer wrote, “not Norton off San Francisco.”

    On a rainy night in January 1880, the Emperor was striding up a hill when he collapsed, clutching his chest. Days later, he lay in uniform in a rosewood casket donated by the city. Ten thousand people filed past to pay their respects. His funeral cortege stretched for two miles.

    Today in San Francisco, the Emperor’s name graces an inn, a bar, a walking tour, and products from chips to cookies to craft beer. City Hall was once lit golden to honor his 200th birthday. And The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign is lobbying the state to rename the Bay Bridge. Emperor Norton may have been bat-**** crazy, but he was crazy like a fox.

    Some say America is a heartless place, a country of “dog eat dog.” The next time you think so, consider the Emperor Norton. To celebrate madness is itself insane. But to cherish eccentricity, to honor rebirth, to mock the powerful — these, as the Emperor Norton showed us, are the “request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States.”



  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2007


    That was great, thank you TCP!
    "The thing about smart people is they seem like crazy people to dumb people" - Stephen Hawking

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 1969
    Lake LBJ, Texas


    Interesting read.
    Once on safari in deepest darkest Afganistan we ran out of Gin, and were compelled to survive on food and water for several days.

    I typically carry a flask of vodka for snakebites. I also carry a small snake.- W. C. Fields

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