8 January 1880, Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, died in the streets of San Francisco.
“Of all our visitors, I believe I preferred Emperor Norton; the very mention of whose name reminds me I am doing scanty justice to the folks of San Francisco. In what other city would a harmless madman who supposed himself emperor of the two Americas have been so fostered and encouraged? Where else would even the people of the streets have respected the poor soul's illusion? Where else would bankers and merchants have received his visits, cashed his cheques, and submitted to his small assessments? Where else would he have been suffered to attend and address the exhibition days of schools and colleges? Where else, in God's green earth, have taken his pick of restaurants, ransacked the bill of fare, and departed scathless? They tell me he was even an exacting patron, threatening to withdraw his custom when dissatisfied; and I can believe it, for his face wore an expression distinctly gastronomical. Pinkerton had received from this monarch a cabinet appointment; I have seen the brevet, wondering mainly at the good nature of the printer who had executed the forms, and I think my friend was at the head either of foreign affairs or education: it mattered, indeed, nothing, the prestation being in all offices identical. It was at a comparatively early date that I saw Jim in the exercise of his public functions. His Majesty entered the office--a portly, rather flabby man, with the face of a gentleman, rendered unspeakably pathetic and absurd by the great sabre at his side and the peacock's feather in his hat.“ (Robert Louis Stevenson “The Wrecker“)
|A contemporary photograph of Norton I in full fig |
and one of his Imperial Edicts from 1879
|The "San Francisco Chronicle's" court jester Edward Jumper's caricature of Norton I, dining with his two dogs Bummer and Lazarus, somewhat irreverently called "The Three Bummers" (around 1865)|
|More bummers: Edward Jump's capture of a scene from the streets of San Francisco, with Emperor Norton on the far right, his two dogs in the centre and George Washington II in 18th century garb displaying one of his banners|
And more about His Imperial Majesty Norton I on:
Tagore’s wonderful poem quoted above is called “I Travelled The Old Road” and runs as follows:
“I travelled the old road every day, I took my fruits to the market,
my cattle to the meadows, I ferried my boat across the stream and
all the ways were well known to me.
One morning my basket was heavy with wares. Men were busy in
the fields, the pastures crowded with cattle; the breast of earth
heaved with the mirth of ripening rice.
Suddenly there was a tremor in the air, and the sky seemed to
kiss me on my forehead. My mind started up like the morning out of
I forgot to follow the track. I stepped a few paces from the
path, and my familiar world appeared strange to me, like a flower
I had only known in bud.
My everyday wisdom was ashamed. I went astray in the fairyland
of things. It was the best luck of my life that I lost my path that
morning, and found my eternal childhood.”