American Emperor

Hail Eris!A rather curious synchronicity occurs today. The anniversary of the birth of one American icon, and that of the death of another.

The former has certainly received plenty of attention — releasing a number-one single a quarter-century after your death will do that — but the latter is quite a bit more obscure.

Today marks the 123rd anniversary of the demise of Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico (betcha never knew we had an actual, honest-to-goodness monarch).

Joshua Norton was a real estate investor who lost his fortune — and his mind — in the mid-nineteenth century. On September 17, 1859, he declared himself Emperor. Now, in most cases, the story — were it ever told at all — would have ended right there. What makes this tale live on, though, is that the city of San Francisco chose to recognize him as Emperor. He made a series of proclamations across the remainder of his life (including, most notably, that what would become the Golden Gate Bridge be built) and turned into a local celebrity; he even had his own currency.

After his death, between 10,000 and 30,000 people showed up for his funeral. His name has posthumously been attached to everything from motels to rockabilly bands to software packages to record labels. Not bad for a crackpot.

Le Roi Est Mort.


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