For those who never heard of this peculiar, extraordinary man, consider this link as probably the best place to start learning about him.
If you happen to visit San Francisco, with some spare time to burn, you may even feel inclined to visit his favorite places, his unique gravestone or even the corner where he died of a stroke at the early age of 61 – between California street and Grant Avenue.
How can one summarize a life in a paragraph?
It cannot be done. Here is a poor attempt, though:
An American Don Quixote, who lost his mind to a business deal, and became almost a homeless character who ruled happily in the kingdom of madness over his beloved city of San Francisco, which was so fond of him and his dignity that no one even dared charging him for his meals. In fact, most businesses considered an honor having “his Majesty” as a guest. When he died, the funeral cortege was two miles long, with over 10,000 people showing up.
He even printed his own money…
His original proclamation read:
“AT THE peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of San Francisco, California, declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of February next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.
Emperor of the United States”
A tribute to his life is this notable poem by the late Dr. George Chismore:
“No more through the crowded streets he goes,
With his shambling gait and shabby clothes,
And his furtive glance and whiskered nose–
Immersed in cares of state.
The serpent twisted upon his staff
Is not less careless of idle chaff,
The mocking speech or the scornful laugh,
Than be who bore it late.
His nerveless grasp has released the helm,
But ere the Lethean flood shall whelm
The last faint trace of his fancied realm,
Let us contrast his fate
With other rulers and other reigns,
Of royal birth or scheming brains,
And see if his crazy life contains
So much to deprecate.
No traitorous friends, or vigilant foes,
Rippled the stream of his calm repose;
No fear of exile before him ‘rose,
Whose empire was his pate;
No soldiers died to uphold his fame;
He found no pleasure in woman’s shame;
For wasted wealth no well-earned blame
Turned subjects’ love to hate.
No long and weary struggle with pain;
One sudden throe in his clouded brain
Closed forever his bloodless reign,
With every man his friend.
For Death alone did be abdicate.
What Emperor, Prince or potentate,
Can long avoid a similar fate
Or win a better end!“