Joshua Abraham “Emperor Norton I” Norton


Joshua Abraham “Emperor Norton I” Norton

Deptford, London Borough of Lewisham, Greater London, England
Death 8 Jan 1880 (aged 61)
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, USA
Burial Colma, San Mateo County, California, USA
Memorial ID 766 View Source
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Self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Born Joshua Abraham Norton in England, his parents John and Sarah Norton immigrated to South Africa in 1820, when he was about two years old. His birth date has been debated, but most historians believe he was born in London about February 14, 1819. After receiving his inheritance of $40,000 Norton immigrated to San Francisco in 1849, and by 1853, he had accumulated a fortune of $250,000, making most of his money in the local real estate market. However, by 1858, he had lost his fortune and declared bankruptcy. In September 1859, having become disgruntled with the US Government, he took out an ad in several San Francisco newspapers, proclaiming himself "Emperor of these United States," later adding the title "Protector of Mexico." A month later, he issued a proclamation dissolving the Congress of the United States, as the secession crisis grew with the Southern States. Naturally, such orders and decrees were largely ignored. In August 1869, he issued another decree, abolishing both the Democratic and Republican political parties. Most of the local politicians thought him a broke, harmless eccentric, and ignored his periodic imperial decrees. Despite this, many of his orders did make sense and have logic in them. He called for the construction of a bridge and tunnel between San Francisco and Oakland (which became the Bay Bridge, when built in 1933-36 and the tunnel was built in 1969-1972). Wearing an elaborate blue uniform with gold epaulets and a beaver hat decorated with peacock feathers, he would daily inspect his dominion (the streets of San Francisco), inspecting the maintenance of public property and the appearance of the local police officers. He would also attend to the needs of his "subjects," giving lengthy philosophical lectures to anyone who would listen. Becoming a local icon, the citizens of San Francisco took him to their heart. He regularly ate at fine restaurants, never paying for a meal, and the proprietors would add a brass plaque to their entrances declaring "By Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I". When local white rowdies tried to start a pogrom against Chinese in the city, Emperor Norton forbade it and stood in the street, head bowed and praying; the pogrom failed on the spot. In 1867, a police officer arrested Norton, intending to have him committed to an insane asylum, and the resulting public outcry had the Police Chief, Patrick Crowley, release the Emperor with a public apology. Emperor Norton then issued an Imperial Pardon to the errant police officer for his act of treason. To pay some of his minor debts, Norton issued currency, which was generally accepted by the local merchants. When Norton's uniform began to look shabby, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors appropriated money for its replacement. On the evening of January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed while on his way to a scientific lecture, and died before help could be summoned. The next day, the San Francisco Chronicle featured his obituary under the headline “Imperial Ashes.” Despite being completely impoverished, a local businessmen's club paid for Norton's casket and plot, and nearly 30,000 people attended his funeral at the Masonic Cemetery. In 1934, his remains were moved to Woodlawn Cemetery, which provided the impressive headstone for his grave free of cost. Since his death, and beginning in the late 1960s, Emperor Norton I has been periodically honored as a celebrity of the city.

Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 766
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Joshua Abraham “Emperor Norton I” Norton (4 Feb 1818–8 Jan 1880), Find a Grave Memorial ID 766, citing Woodlawn Memorial Park, Colma, San Mateo County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .