Have you noticed my penchant for writing stuff in foreign languages? I suppose we could deduce that I am trying to impress you but since I don't speak any other languages, other than Texan, I think my cover is blown. It has to do with this handy site: Translation Online . You can type in something and translate it into any of a bunch of languages. Or you can copy a paragraph in Portuguese that you happen to have sitting around and it will translate it into English. It gets it mostly right I think.
"The King is Dead" was a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle in January of 1888. That what the title of this essay says. The king was Joshua Abraham Norton and I think he has become my new hero. Superman is kinda' passe these days.
Humiliated and bankrupt he disappeared for a couple of years.
It has been speculated that this harrowing experience drove him insane and delusional. When he returned to San Francisco, he returned proudly and proclaimed himself the Emperor of these United States.
"...fraud and corruption prevent a fair and proper expression of the public voice; that open violation of the laws are constantly occurring, caused by mobs, parties, factions and undue influence of political sects; that the citizen has not that protection of person and property which he is entitled."
Although congress sorta' ignored this decree, the newspapers were amused and published all that he wrote in an effort to add a light touch to the news. Well -- Joshua Norton went viral. It was a slow virus as was fitting in those pre-internet days. People got a kick out of a guy proclaiming himself king....and all were entertained when he declared that he was also 'Protector of Mexico'.
King Joshua was miffed that Congress refused to disband, so he ordered the Army to remove Congress:
"WHEREAS, a body of men calling themselves the National Congress are now in session in Washington City, in violation of our Imperial edict of the 12th of October last, declaring the said Congress abolished;
WHEREAS, it is necessary for the repose of our Empire that the said decree should be strictly complied with;
NOW, THEREFORE, we do hereby Order and Direct Major-General Scott, the Command-in-Chief of our Armies, immediately upon receipt of this, our Decree, to proceed with a suitable force and clear the Halls of Congress."
Actually, the Army tended to ignore this order too.
The Civil War was approaching so King Joshua stepped in to put a stop to the whole mess....except he was a little confused as to who the combatants were. In 1862 King Joshua mandated that the Catholic Church and Protestant Churches publicly ordain him as Emperor which would, of course, solve everything. Shortly after that he disbanded the Republican and Democratic parties.
The citizens of San Francisco loved him. He was of calm temperament and walked the streets dressed in an elaborate uniform complete with a feathered hat and sword. The epaulets on his shoulders were given to him by local Army officers. Everyone greeted him as King and the police would salute him when he approached. As he strolled he would inspect the streets and the cable cars and condemn any filth that he found. Frequently he would stop to give philosophical lectures on street corners and always drew a crowd, even if they didn't know what he was talking about. He in some ways became a revered mascot of San Francisco. He printed his own money and used it to pay for anything that he bought....and all accepted the money. Why? It drew crowds. He always had his two dogs, Bummer and Lazarus, with him....and they were to be fed when he was.
In fact, when the King dined at a finer San Francisco restaurant, the restaurant would put up brass plaque stating: 'Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I of the United States'. It became a status symbol to have one of these plagues.
Once a policeman arrested King Joshua to have him involuntarily committed in a mental institution. The outrage in San Francisco was so great that the Police Chief quickly released him stating: "...that he had shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country; which is more than can be said of his fellows in that line."
When the King's uniform began to get a bit shabby, the City Board of Supervisors, with great ceremony, present him with new regal uniform. In appreciation King Joshua issued a "patent of nobility in perpetuity" for each supervisor.
He wrote letters to Queen Victoria proposing marriage....and even had a telegram from Emperor Alexander II of Russia congratulating him on his impending marriage to Queen Victoria. I'm pretty sure that the Queen didn't accept his proposal or I probably would have heard of it somewhere.
King Joshua also paid attention to local affairs too and once published this stern warning:
"Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word "Frisco", which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars."
He was a bit of a visionary and became upset when his order to build a bridge between San Francisco and Oakland was ignored.
"WHEREAS, we issued our decree ordering the citizens of San Francisco and Oakland to appropriate funds for the survey of a suspension bridge from Oakland Point via Goat Island; also for a tunnel; and to ascertain which is the best project; and whereas the said citizens have hitherto neglected to notice our said decree; and whereas we are determined our authority shall be fully respected; now, therefore, we do hereby command the arrest by the army of both the Boards of City Fathers if they persist in neglecting our decrees.
Given under our royal hand and seal at San Francisco, this 17th day of September, 1872."
60 years later the bridge was built.
Joshua Norton lived the life of the king that he thought he was for twenty years. On January 8, 1880 Joshua collapsed in front of St, Marys Church and died. The next morning the San Francisco Chronicle headline read Le Roi est Mort. The King is Dead. The Chronicle went on to say:
"on the reeking pavement, in the darkness of a moon-less night under the dripping rain..., Norton I, by the grace of God, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, departed this life"
Joshua Norton died a pauper but he didn't know it because he had plenty of his printed money.
It was reported that 30,000 people lined the streets and attended his funeral. Respects were paid "...by all classes from capitalists to the pauper, the clergyman to the pickpocket, well-dressed ladies and those whose garb and bearing hinted of the social outcast." A San Francisco Businessman group provided the rosewood casket. The City of San Francisco paid for the funeral.
Joshua Abraham Norton is one of the few people in this world that actually lived his dream.
It is important to note that in writing this I got a little help from Wikipedia.
Well, maybe a lot of help.