To today’s San Franciscan, the name “Emperor Norton” conjures up images of a colorful, but homeless street person, accompanied by a couple of dogs, who ordered bridges to be built and governments dissolved; an insane man revered by the San Franciscans of the late 19th Century. His story is far more complex than most San Franciscans know.
The real Emperor – Joshua Abraham Norton – is one of contradictions and myths. He was rational man who could speak about any intelligently about politics and science, was a great chess player, and was quite inventive, but believed he was the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He issued proclamations, collected taxes, attended sessions of government, rode free on public transit, had free tickets to theater, and sold his own currency; but lived day to day as a pauper in raggedy clothes. He was a successful businessman who lost a fortune as the result of a business deal gone badly and ultimately lived off the kindness of San Franciscans, but owned no dogs and was never homeless.
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