Fare thee well, o my Emperor.

Jan 08, 2010

On this date in the year 1880 c.e. Emperor Joshua Norton the First, Emperor of United States of America and Protector of Mexico collapsed in death at the corner of California Street and (now) Grant Avenue.

Emperor Norton was possibly one of the most eccentric people ever to have lived in the United States. Born in England in the early 19th century, he came to the United States by way of South Africa in the mid 1800's and became something of an entrepreneur, working the real estate market and using the profit to try to corner the market on rice in China during a famine. The attempt failed, and it would appear that what passed for his sanity vanished along with the Emperor himself after the dust from the lawsuits settled and the last of his fortune consumed in the process. The Emperor returned in 1859 and issued a series of proclamations, first and foremost crowning himself Emperor but soon following up with other commands from San Francisco, such as dismissing the then-governor of Virginia and replacing him and most famously dissolving the United States of America in July of 1860. It didn't take long for newspaper editors to get into the act; it isn't known how many of the oddball things published in Emperor Norton's name were actually penned by him but history doesn't much seem to mind. Spectacle, after all, gets people to buy papers and popular attention is all that is needed to turn a man into a living myth.

And a living myth he is. By all accounts he was mad as a hatter, yet his madness somehow kept him sane as Neil Gaiman wrote in Fables and Reflections. He printed his own currency and somehow got most every shopkeeper in the city to accept it as legal tender. Soldiers stationed at the Presidio gifted the Emperor with a blue uniform, complete with gold epaulets, an outfit he was given to wearing about town. It is said that he single-handedly halted an anti-Chinese riot in progress by standing in the middle of the melee and reciting the Lord's Prayer aloud. Emperor Norton was so beloved by the people of San Francisco that he ate for free and was afforded respect not often due people unrecognized in international politics. On the 100th anniversary of his death in 1980 c.e. many memorial ceremonies were held in his honor around the city, and from time to time Emperor Norton still pops up in pop culture in everything from graphic novels to short stories to the odd video game.

Two days after his death he was buried with honors at the Woodlawn Memorial Park in nearby Colma. It is said that approximately 10,000 people attended the funeral, and the funerary parade was two miles in length.

The Emperor is dead. Long live the Emperor. Hail Eris.