Was he really insane or, being a fellow member of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, did he just truly live the Clamper motto, "Credo Quia Absurdum" (I believe because it is absurd)? We'll never know, but his life was a fantasy that we can continue to enjoy.
Joshua Abraham Norton (1819-1880)
Emperor Norton - Live Like Him
Joshua Norton, or as he preferred to be called, Norton I, proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico in 1859.
Althought a pauper, he was fed free in San Francisco's best restaurants.
Although a madman, he had all his state proclamations published in San Francisco's newspapers.
While rational reformers elsewhere failed to crack the national bank monopoly with alternate currency plans, Norton I had own private currency accepted throughout San Francisco.
When the Vigilantes decide to have a pogrom against the Chinese, and sane men would have tried to stop them, Norton I did nothing but stand in the street, head bowed, praying. The Vigilantes dispersed.
"When the proper man does nothing (wu-wei), his thought is felt ten thousand miles." - Lao Tse
Although a fool, Norton I wrote letters which were seriously considered by Abraham Lincoln and Queen Victoria.
"You must take the bull by the tail and look the facts in the face." - W.C. Fields
Although a charlatan, Norton I was so beloved that 30,000 people turned out for his funeral in 1880.
"Everybody understands Mickey Mouse. Few understand Hermann Hesse. Hardly anybody understands Einstein. And nobody understands Emperor Norton." - Malaclypse the Younger, K.S.C.
So much has been written about Emperor Norton, and interest in this ninteenth-century character continues into the twenty-first century.
Many of the “decrees” attributed to Norton I were fakes; written in jest by newspaper editors at the time for amusement, or for political purposes. Those “decrees” listed here were, we believe, actually issued by Norton.
September 17, 1859 – Joshua A. Norton, who lost his money in an attempt to corner the rice market, today declared himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.
December 2, 1859 – Norton I dismissed Gov. Wise of Virginia for hanging John Brown and appointed John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky to replace him.
February 1, 1860 – Decree from Norton I ordered representatives of the different states to assemble at Platt’s Music Hall to change laws to ameloriate the evils under which the country was laboring.
July 16, 1860 – Decree from Norton I dissolved the United States of America.
October 1, 1860 – Decree from Norton I barred Congress from meeting in Washington, D.C.
February 5, 1861– Norton I changed the place of his National Convention to Assembly Hall, Post and Kearny, because Platt’s Music Hall had burned.
September 17, 1861 – A new theater, Tucker’s Hall, opened with a performance of “Norton the First,” or "An Emperor for a Day."
October 1863 – Death of Lazarus, Emperor Norton’s dog.
February 14, 1864 – Norton I arrived in Marysville to join the celebration of the opening of the railroad.
November 11, 1865 – Mark Twain wrote an epitaph for Bummer, the long-time companion of Lazarus.
January 21, 1867 – An overzealous Patrol Special Officer, Armand Barbier, arrested His Majesty Norton I for involuntary treatment of a mental disorder and thereby created a major civic uproar. Police Chief Patrick Crowley apologized to His Majesty and ordered him released. Several scathing newspaper editorials followed the arrest. All police officers began to salute His Majesty when he passed them on the street.
July 25, 1869 – Decree from Norton I that San Franciscans advance money to Frederick Marriott for his airship experiments.
August 12, 1869 – Decree from Norton I dissolved and abolished the Democratic and Republican parties because of party strife now existing within our realm.
December 15, 1869 – Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, left San Francisco to seek his yearly tribute from the legislature and lobbyists. He inspected the new capitol during the gala ball celebrating the buildings’ inauguration.
December 16, 1869 – Decree by Norton I demanded that Sacramento clean its muddy streets and place gaslights on streets leading to the capitol.
August 1, 1870 – Norton I was listed by the Census taker with the occupation of “emperor,” living at 624 Commercial St.
September 21, 1870 – Decree from Norton I that the Grand Hotel furnish him rooms under penalty of being banished.
March 23, 1872 – Decree by Norton I that a suspension bridge be built as soon as convenient between Oakland Point and Goat Island, and then on to San Francisco.
September 21, 1872 – Norton I ordered a survey to determine if a bridge or tunnel would be the best possible means to connect Oakland and San Francisco. He also ordered the arrest of the Board of Supervisors for ignoring his decrees.
January 2, 1873 – Decree from Norton I that a worldwide Bible Convention be held in San Francisco on this day.
March 18, 1873 – David Belasco made his stage debut at the Metropolitan Theatre playing Emperor Norton in the play “The Gold Demon.”
January 8, 1880 – Norton I dropped dead on California St. at Grant Ave. He was on his way to a lecture at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
January 9, 1880 – Headline in the Morning Call: “Norton the First, by the grace of God Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, departed this life.”
January 10, 1880 – Norton I was buried today at Masonic Cemetery. The funeral cortege was two miles long. 10,000 people turned out for the funeral.
June 30, 1934 – Emperor Norton I reburied in Woodlawn Cemetery by citizens of San Francisco.
January 7, 1980 – The city marked the 100th anniversary of the death of its only monarch, Emperor Norton, with lunch-hour ceremonies at Market and Montgomery streets.
The Brig, for everything else. Pirates-at-large. Free booze.
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