“Everybody understands Mickey Mouse. Few understand Hermann Hesse. Only a handful understood Albert Einstein. And nobody understood Emperor Norton.” Joshua Norton Cabal
150 years ago Thursday, a bankrupt, indigent (ex-)rice merchant named Joshua Abraham Norton declared himself the first and only Emperor of the United States, and later the Protector of Mexico. This can’t be allowed to pass without tribute.
During his 21 year reign he dissolved the United States Congress, proposed a bridge be built between San Francisco and Oakland, banned use of the nickname “Frisco,” and allegedly prevented one anti-Asian race riot. He had no money, but issued his own currency that was honored by San Francisco establishments. His power (or “power”) was self-granted and existed only as far as his subjects acknowledged it, and acknowledge it they did. When Norton died, it was reported, 30,000 San Franciscans came to the funeral.
Whether Norton was insane, faking it for attention, or making a point is unknown, and I think it’s probably a little of each, especially the first one. But Norton is a big deal to us Discordians because he’s a hell of a story, and I think because he does more than most to remind us how big a role we each play in creating our reality. Hail Norton!
The San Francisco Brewing Company (a microbrew pub in SF) has an “Emperor Norton Pale Ale” that they brew in his honor-----Its a pretty tasty micro, and they have a bit of info on his life printed on the menu…
He was a kook, but San Francisco has had a few of them in town since, and he was pretty harmless compared to some of the others.
Thanks to him, I have only referred to the city by the bay as “San Francisco.” I have been fortunate enough to visit his home city, and would have been perfectly happy to pay his taxes in exchange for a receipt signed by the Emperor himself. Unfortunately, he passed away before I was able to meet him. Still, I hope to return to San Francisco someday; and should I meet his heir Norton II, I would be happy to extend greetings from the Canadian Confederation to the north, and pleased also to present my credentials as a Canadian ambassador to the Emperor.
I have seen other sources that point that the Emperor made decrees ordering the construction of a suspension bridge or tunnel between San Fransisco and Oakland. Today both of those “far fetched ideas” are a reality.
The Lucky Luke album L’Empereur Smith, written by René Goscinny, is based on the story of Emperor Norton. Except that Smith actually started to believe himself the Emperor of the United States after making an unexpected fortune in business, which made him much more dangerous than the impoverished Emperor Norton.
In the story “Three Septembers and a January”, an issue of *The Sandman *, Neil Gaiman wrote that on the day of Emperor Norton’s funeral, there was a total eclipse. I had to look it up, to see if it was poetic license. It was.
30,000 went to his funeral because there really wasn’t a lot to do in San Francisco and any excuse for a party in SF is suitable. We also had funerals for Bummer and Lazarus the dogs that supposedly hung around him.
I was acquainted with an alcoholic street guy in DC named Robert who was the Mayor of 14th Street. Any time he got angry, which was pretty much every time he talked, he would proclaim it to the whole neighborhood.
Yeah, being the disorganized religion we’ve never had a whole lot in the way of publicity. You can’t expect more than a cult following for a religion founded by two stoners in a California bowling alley in the late 50s. Plus it’s a bunch of alienated loners who are commanded to stick apart, and excommunicate each other when they meet. So there’s that. But enjoy the Principia- unless you’re a cabbage or something.