Robert A. Wilson: Emperor Norton & The Freemasons
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Robert Anton Wilson on Hour of Slack
Joshua Abraham Norton (c. 1819 - January 8, 1880), the self-proclaimed Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, was a celebrated citizen of San Francisco, California, who in 1859 proclaimed himself "Emperor of these United States" and subsequently "Protector of Mexico".
Born in London, Norton spent most of his early life in South Africa. He emigrated to San Francisco in 1849 after receiving a bequest of $40,000 from his father's estate. 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 left San Francisco. He returned a few years later, apparently mentally unbalanced, claiming to be the 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 he was considered insane, or at least highly eccentric, the citizens of San Francisco celebrated his regal presence and his proclamations, most famously, his "order" that the United States Congress be dissolved by force and his numerous decrees calling for a bridge and a tunnel to be built across San Francisco Bay (which both happened long after his death in the form of the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge and the Transbay Tube). On January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed at a street corner, and died before he could be given medical treatment. The following day, nearly 30,000 people packed the streets of San Francisco to pay homage to Norton. Norton's legacy has been immortalized in the literature of writers Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Christopher Moore, and Neil Gaiman who based characters on him. In December 2004, a resolution was made to name the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge in honor of Norton, but the idea did not progress further.