A long long time ago
or maybe just a long time ago
some internet person tried to pay me
to retell the Principia Discordia.
As payment I demanded twenty dollars in quarters
and photographic proof of having amused strangers in traffic
which i thought was a suitably discordian payment.
The person in question completely failed to deliver either of these things
now that i think about it
is probably a suitably discordian payment method
but rather than trying to transliterate the entire corpus
of the Epiphanies Rudely Imposed Upon the World by Her Royal Weirdness Eris Discordia
(whose most notorious achievement I have already documented in any case)
today I am going to tell you about the Goddess’s Only Begotten Son
RULER OF THESE UNITED STATES
AND – FOR A SHORT TIME
PROTECTOR OF MEXICO
This is a real story about a real person
a real person born in England in like 1818
who grew up in South Africa
and only moved to the US when his parents died
/ when he realized how rad America was.
So Norton (whose first name is not actually Emperor
but is in fact Joshua)
shows up in San Francisco as a pretty rich dude
like, his parents were rich and then they died
and that made him rich because richness is i guess genetic
anyway Norton is a pretty shrewd investor
so he quickly turns his money into even more money
and then he comes across THE ULTIMATE FINANCIAL OPPORTUNITY
you see, China suddenly decides it’s not gonna export rice anymore
and San Francisco is full of Chinese people
who are used to having rice
so all of a sudden there is a HUGE demand for rice
and like NO RICE
so Norton buys up like a million tons of rice
and has it shipped to san Francisco
so he can be the big rice man.
BUT HE FORGOT ONE CRUCIAL THING:
CHINA IS NOT THE ONLY PLACE WHAT GROWS RICE
so all of a sudden these two huge ships arrive from peru
just brimming with fucking rice
and overnight Norton’s boatload of bucks
becomes a boatload of sucks.
He tries to get out of paying for all that rice
but his reasons are bullshit and everyone knows it
so within the space of like a week
dude is suddenly not rich anymore.
So what does Norton do?
Does he jump off the top of a building?
HE DECLARES HIMSELF EMPEROR OF THE UNITED STATES
Like, first he disappears for a little while
but when he reappears
he just starts writing royal decrees
and sending them to san Francisco newspapers
like “Hear ye hear ye, I’m emperor now”
or “Avast, congress is hereby dissolved”
or “Yarr, build a bridge over that there Oakland Bay”
oh fuck I slipped into pirate mode there for a second
although you have to admit
the only thing cooler than being emperor of the united states
is being PIRATE-KING OF THE UNITED STATES
but anyway yeah
Norton is totally serious about all of this
he’s all writing letters to Queen Victoria/Abe Lincoln
trying to marry one and moderate the other one’s civil war
he’s issuing his own currency
and selling royal bonds
and inspecting the quality of the streets and the police
but none of that is really that remarkable.
Crazy people believe crazy shit all the time
especially when it comes to their crazy selves.
What’s ACTUALLY insane
is how people RESPOND to this guy.
Restaurants accept his currency
and actively seek out his royal seal of approval.
The city council pays for him to have fancy clothes
like gold epaulets
and a coonskin cap with peacock feathers in it.
One time a police officer accidentally arrests him for being crazy
and people get SO CHEEZED
that the chief of police is forced to order his release
and issue a public apology
which Norton responds to with a ROYAL PARDON.
Boy, it sure is pretty dope to be white in America, huh?
YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S NOT DOPE TO BE IN AMERICA THOUGH?
at least not in the 1800s
who would have thought that the country that went on to intern the Japanese
would harbor anti-Chinese sentiments during the civil war era huh
yeah, people are straight rioting in San Fran
(which Norton explicitly forbade anyone from calling “Frisco” by the way
so keep that in mind)
and they really want to kill them some Chinese people
so they show up in Chinatown, bout to bust some skulls
and who’s standing there
rudely obstructing their murder route?
EMPEROR FUCKING NORTON
THIS IS A STORY ABOUT EMPEROR NORTON
Norton just stands in front of these rioters with his head down
and fucking prays at them until they feel awkward and go away.
Then he goes back to selling bullshit royal bonds to tourists.
Emperor Norton is like most people in that he eventually dies.
It’s a bummer, but he lived a pretty good life
and somewhere between 10 and 30 thousand people show up to his funeral
which is somewhere between 7 and 20 percent of the city at that time
oh, and do you remember that bridge he ordered built?
LOOKS LIKE IT GOT BUILT AFTER ALL
SIXTY YEARS LATER
THANKS ENTIRELY TO EMPEROR NORTON AND NO ONE ELSE
also I imagine there are some Chinese people who are happy they weren’t murdered.
That’s a pretty solid legacy
i gotta say.
I think the moral of this story is one we can all appreciate:
when life gives you lemons
declare yourself emperor
issue a proprietary currency
and then use that currency to buy lemonade.
Something you forgot to mention: Depending on who you listen to, and when exactly His Royal Highness was buried, There was a solar eclipse either on the day of his funeral, or the day after.
Dude was so cool, even the sun was sad to see him go.
I’ve never really understood why Americans like the story of this guy so much. He was just a crazy dude people decided to humour. That isnt much.
But then, I’ve never understood the appeal of most American folklore. Like johny appleseed. Big deal, dude plants apple trees. He’s no Roland beating up the muslims at Tours, I tell you what.
Considering that humoring the crazy guy with a free dinner or fresh set of clothes now and then led to him totally ending a riot that could have ended up with hundreds of heads busted up, maybe humoring the crazies isn’t such a bad social strategy after all.
San Francisco might be named after Francis, but Emperor Norton is very much the patron saint of the city. His story represents SF, or at least the city it used to be. There are several places here that feature paintings of him, especially in North Beach where he used to hang out. There’s even a bar named after him. We almost named a bridge after him, but they opted to name it after a famous crook instead. At the base of the Transamerica Pyramid, there’s a plaque to the dogs that were alleged to be his, Bummer and Lazarus. And the Imperial Court — a group of philanthropic drag queens — trace their lineage back to Absolute Empress I de San Francisco, the Widow Norton. When they crown a new Empress each year, they make a pilgrimage to Emperor Norton’s grave. The phrase “only in San Francisco” probably originated by some dude talking about His Imperial Majesty.
And let’s not forget the Widow Norton! Jose Sarria was the first out gay man to run for San Francisco Supervisor, back in 1961. He was a drag waitress at the Black Cat Cafe, and led the patrons in a chorus of “God Bless Us Nelly Queens” every night at closing.
This story is rad and all, but I would be interested in more Hindu tales.
Specifically the one about Ayyappan and how he was the result of Shiva and Vishnu getting dirty. It was a trip.
Emperor Norton is by far and away my favourite historical figure.