With my revelations about Victor Emanuel and the Belmont Colony, Emperor Norton, and myself, appear less – MAD! Ken Kesey was doing Norton, but didn’t become the tourist attraction the Emperor was. This article explores his relationship with Mark Twain and Bret Harte, who took part in Jessie Benton’s Salon at Black Point. Her husband, John Fremont, and, Joaquin Miller were Norton types. Out West Pioneers were larger than life characters, not yet the equal of the swells back East. Hollywood hadn’t been invented yet. California Real Estate, fueled by the Gold Rush, gave every young man and woman the opportunity to become Royalty.
I am going to retire from public life and take one title with me ‘King of Geronimo’. It is my desire to dwell in the valley and town of my illustrious ancestor where I will bless the opening of art shows and other cultural happenings. Of course I will be the marshal of all parades. As a Living California Treasure, I am seeking a humble, affordable abode in my Kingdom, from where I will continue to publish my blog ‘Royal Rosamond Press’.
Joshua Abraham Norton (c.1818 – January 8, 1880), known as Emperor Norton, was a citizen of San Francisco, California who in 1859 proclaimed himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States” and subsequently “Protector of Mexico”.
Born in England, Norton spent most of his early life in South Africa. After the death of his mother in 1846 and his father in 1848, he emigrated to San Francisco with an inheritance from his father’s estate, arriving in November 1849 aboard the Hamburg ship Franzeska with $40,000 (inflation adjusted to $1.1 million in 2015 US Dollars). Norton initially made a living as a businessman, but he lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice.
After losing a lawsuit in which he tried to void his rice contract, Norton became a less and less public figure. He reemerged in September 1859, laying claim to the position of Emperor of the United States. Although he had no political power, and his influence extended only so far as he was humored by those around him, he was treated deferentially in San Francisco, and currency issued in his name was honored in the establishments he frequented.
Though some considered him insane or eccentric, citizens of San Francisco celebrated his regal presence and his proclamations, such as his order that the United States Congress be dissolved by force and his numerous decrees calling for a bridge crossing connecting San Francisco to Oakland, and a corresponding tunnel to be built under San Francisco Bay. Similar structures were built long after his death in the form of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge and theTransbay Tube, and there have been campaigns to rename the bridge “The Emperor Norton Bridge“. On January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed at the corner of California and Dupont (now Grant) streets and died before he could be given medical treatment. At his funeral two days later, nearly 30,000 people packed the streets of San Francisco to pay homage. Norton has been immortalized as the basis of characters in the literature of writers Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Christopher Moore, Maurice De Bevere, Selma Lagerlöf, and Neil Gaiman.
Genealogical and other research indicates that Norton’s parents were John Norton (d. August 1848) and Sarah Norden, English Jews — John, a farmer and merchant; Sarah, a daughter of Abraham Norden and a sister of Benjamin Norden, a successful Jewish merchant — who moved the family to South Africa in early 1820 as part of a government-backed colonization scheme whose participants came to be known as the 1820 Settlers.[13