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    Emperor Norton

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    (Joshua Abraham Norton)
    February 4, 1818 – January 8, 1880

    "[He] was a gentle and kindly man, and fortunately found himself in the friendliest and most sentimental city in the world, the idea being 'let him be emperor if he wants to.'" — Isobel Field

    After losing everything he owned in 1858, Joshua Norton made the last rational decision of his life: he went completely and utterly nuts.

    A resident of San Francisco, Norton named himself the first Emperor of the United States, dissolved Congress, demanded a bridge be built across the bay, and banned use of the term 'Frisco' to describe his home city.

    All of which wouldn't be that big a deal — what city is short its contingent of schizophrenic street dwellers? — except for the fact that San Francisco chose to play along. Policemen saluted him. Operas and shows reserved him a balcony seat. Restaurants accepted his (fake) imperial money. Local newspapers printed his decrees.

    Why? Perhaps they felt sorry for him. Or they found him funny. Or, perhaps they saw him for what he was: a goodhearted, harmless fellow who had been hit by terrible luck in life and so was forced to retreat from reality. There but for the grace of G-d go all of us.

    We'd all like to believe in a fantasy once in a while. And though the first (and only) Emperor of the United States was more silly than saint, there was still something enchanting about him.

    What's so crazy about that?

    Verdict: Jew.

    February 15, 2012

    See Also

    Washington Bartlett

    Dianne Feinstein

    Harvey Milk

    Peter the Great

    Adolph Sutro
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