Friday, April 10, 2015

San Francisco’s Emperor

From the1860s to the 1880s San Francisco had one resident that proclaimed himself the first “Emperor of the United States and protector of Mexico” by placing an ad in the San Francisco Bulletin newspaper.

Emperor Norton
This self-proclamation was to say the least unusual, but what made it even more interesting is most San Franciscans acknowledged Emperor Norton. They often saluted him and even paid taxes to him.

Of course, Emperor Norton was insane but he was also a most beloved character about town.

In yet, another unusual twist to this story Emperor Norton is still seen in San Francisco today even though he died in 1880.

Joshua A. Norton was born in England in 1819. He came to San Francisco in 1849 at the age of 30. A shrewd businessman he quickly amassed a fortune for the time--$250,000.

He made his money by buying and selling ships, real estate, and mining claims. But alas, when he and partners tried to corner the market on rice, their gamble failed.

SF cable cars on steep hill in 1870s
Norton lost all his money and his mind in1856. Now, living in poverty he became deluded and elected himself emperor.

A local tailor made him an ornate blue and red uniform for free. He was seen parading up and down the city streets accompanied by his two mutts, Bummer and Lazarus.

He was well liked in part because of his decrees. Some were humorous and others were wise beyond their time. He ordered a bridge be placed where the Golden Gate stands today.

One of his most popular proclamations dissolved both the Democratic and Republican parties--as he put it “in the interests of peace and harmony among all men.”

He always had enough to eat because restaurants gave him free food, they found he attracted paying customers.

His loyal subjects, the fine residents of San Francisco, willingly bought 50-cent bonds that he issued. Saloons across the city paid him “taxes” in the form of drinks. He printed his own money and merchants accepted it as payment.

Emperor Norton riding
his bicycle around the city.
SF Public Library
When Emperor Norton died the city gave him a grand send off. But his ghost lingers.

On cold and foggy nights in downtown San Francisco witnesses have met the Emperor’s ghost. He still wears his uniform, covered in gold braid. His coat is adorned with rows of metals.

He also wears an engraved sword at his side.

Witnesses are warned not to forget to bow or salute when they see him, for he was a "kind and harmless" leader who deserves respect.

Here is a fun podcast about Emperor Norton on sparkletack.

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