Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Reminiscences of Emperor Norton -- February 6, 2018

Overland Monthly, December, 1918
I missed the 200th birthday of Joshua Norton, who is better known as Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.  He was born, most likely, on 04-February-1818 in London.  This article, from the December, 1918 Overland Monthly, is by Dorothy Miller.  Most sources agree that it was an unsuccessful attempt to corner the rice market that sent him off the deep end, rather than one of the great fires.  

Reminiscences of Emperor Norton

By Dorothy Miller

In all her varied history San Francisco has provided no stranger character to entertain the succeeding generations than that of Emperor Norton -- that odd citizen who at one time was a familiar figure along the thriving city's principal thoroughfares. 

The many stories of Emperor Norton, his antecedents, his career before the light of reason was darkened in his mind, would fill a good-sized volume, and though he has passed away for these many years, there are any number of living San Franciscans and Californians who well remember his unique figure as an every day sight on Montgomery and other down-town streets.

Before the big fire of 1851 Emperor Norton was a prosperous merchant of the bustling young city and numbered his friends in all walks of life. The shock of the complete loss of his fortune in the fire which wiped the town out of existence, but which could not erase San Francisco from the map, affected Norton to such an extent that his mind gradually began to fail, until a few years later he was hopelessly insane. Not being of the dangerous variety, he was allowed his liberty, and as his hallucinations made him believe that he was the emperor of the United States and Mexico, his friends humored him to an extent which the modern world would call impractical and foolish. However, in those days sentimental reason played a larger part in the community life than it does now and Emperor Norton was not only allowed the freedom of the town, but provided with everything he needed free of cost.

The Emperor was in the habit of going about dressed in a semi-regal or military suit, epaulets on his shoulders, a cockade in his high silk hat and a sword at his left side—later on he abandoned the sword and carried a heavy cane. Emperor Norton, carrying his mental picture of a national Nortonian government, issued paper money in his name, and was very lavish in spending this currency. Whenever he wished an article of clothing or a meal or anything else that struck his fancy, he walked into the establishment and demanded whatever he wished. The merchants of old San Francisco allowed Emperor Norton to play his part until death relieved them of their odd charge, and to their credit be it said that not one of them ever by word or deed did anything which would give the make-believe sovereign an inkling of the true status of affairs.

Emperor Norton had a few imitators it is said, but they were not given the consideration he was, and they soon faded from public view.

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