The conventional wisdom, advanced by Norton biographer William Drury and many others, is that Joshua Norton was a "high-functioning schizophrenic." But, accepting that Norton struggled with some form of mental illness, is schizophrenia really the best way to explain it? Here's a different take worth considering.Read More
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OPEN QUESTION No. 2: Did Joshua Norton Really Arrive in San Francisco With a $40,000 Inheritance That He Built Into a Quarter-Million-Dollar Fortune in 3 Years?
According to the "received" version of the Emperor Norton story: Joshua Norton inherited $40,000 from his father's estate. At around the same time, news of the Gold Rush reached South Africa. Joshua sailed west to seek his fortune in San Francisco, where he arrived in November 1849 with the $40,000 — a nest egg that he parlayed into $250,000 within three years.
But is this how it really went down? Not likely, according to the available evidence.Read More
The familiar version of Joshua Norton's San Francisco immigration story — a narrative developed primarily between 1879 and 1939 by that period's leading writers about Emperor Norton — holds that the future Emperor made his way from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro, where he booked passage on the Hamburg ship Franzeska and arrived in San Francisco on 23 November 1849.
The "story of the story" — of how this narrative came together and was canonized — is interesting on its own. What has yet to surface, however, is any primary-source documentation verifying Joshua's passage on any particular ship or his arrival in San Francisco in November 1849.
Absent such evidence, what we really have in the "received version" of this story — as with a number of details about the Emperor's pre-imperial life, in particular — is more a work of "collaborative intuition," a theory in search of documentation.
This is the first in an occasional series of articles on aspects of the Emperor Norton biography that should be regarded as "open questions" — and opportunities for research.
For nearly 50 years, Allen Stanley Lane's 1939 biography of Emperor Norton was recognized as the standard reference on the subject. But, as often as Lane is cited in Norton studies and within "the Norton community" more generally, it appears that there is no online record of Lane — apart from references to the fact that he wrote his book.
There appears to be no mention of Lane's personal life — or of anything else he might have written or produced about Emperor Norton.
So it's been gratifying, over the last couple weeks, to have been "gifted" with a couple more documentary signs of Lane's existence.Read More
No proclamation attributed to Emperor Norton more often is actually quoted than the one in which he is said to have railed against the word "Frisco." But did the Emperor actually write this? As it turns out, the source of the "Frisco" proclamation is far from clear. In this wide-ranging, link-packed essay, we detail our quest for the origins of the decree and find that all roads may lead to 1939.Read More
Of the hundreds of Norton-ish folks that we've met over the course of the last year or so, some of those who harbor the deepest fondness for Emperor Norton and his story identify with one of two groups: the Jewish community or numismatists, the latter being the proper term for historians of coin and currency.
Here's a little discovery that brings both groups together — and that advances the case for 1818 as the year of the Emperor's birth.Read More
It long has been known that, upon Emperor Norton's death in January 1880, many of his personal effects — including his regimentals, a hat, his sword and his treasured Serpent Scepter, an elaborate walking stick given him by his subjects in Oregon — went to the Society of California Pioneers (only to be lost 26 years later in the earthquake and fire).
Many, but not all. This week, we discovered archival traces of an early 1880 donation to the Odd Fellows' Library Association of San Francisco. The donation — by David Hutchinson, Emperor Norton's longtime landlord at the Eureka Lodgings — included the stamp the Emperor used to place his seal on his proclamations. It might also have included the Emperor's final proclamation: written and sealed, but not yet delivered and published.Read More
The following illustrated remarks were presented by Emperor's Bridge Campaign founder and president John Lumea at The Emperor's 197th Birthday, the Campaign's "party and presentation of recent findings" held on 3 February 2015 at the Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics in San Francisco.Read More
Emperor Norton's biographer, William Drury, maintains that "February 4th" had nothing at all to do with "His Majesty's Birthday." But was Drury right?Read More
William Drury's 1986 biography "Norton I: Emperor of the United States" remains the authoritative book-length historical treatment of the Emperor.Read More