Heroes of the Absurd – Joshua Abraham Norton

‘Emperor of these United States and protector of Mexico’

Joshua Abraham Norton was a fine deluded fellow (c. 1819ish – January 8, 1880) living mainly in San Francisco who received a good sum from his father’s estate only to lose it all in a bad rice investment. His subsequent bankruptcy and possibly poor mental state led him him to leave San Francisco for several years only to return and declare himself ‘Emperor of these United States’. Although considered at the very least eccentric he was seemingly adored by the people of San Francisco and although penniless he would often eat at the best restaurants and sit in the balcony for the latest shows. Among other things he ordered the dismissal of congress, printed his own money (which was accepted as local currency) and made eccentric proclamations and demands some of which would later come to pass. When a policeman arrested him him and tried to have him committed, the public backlash was so strong that he was released with a full apology –  he was gracious enough to order an ‘imperial pardon’ to the arresting officer.

Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Christopher Moore and Neil Gaiman have all based characters on Joshua Abraham Norton the first.

Norton in Gaiman’s Sandman series.


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