HEROES: Emperor Reburied

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No other city in the world so honors its eccentrics as does urbane San Francisco. In the 1860's, the city was the demented domain of a host of harmless witlings, dizzards, giddy-heads and zanies. In the daily 3 o'clock promenade on Montgomery and Kearney Streets, for which the whole city "habitually turned out, were to be seen such picturesque characters as "Topsy Turvy," a woman who had lost her money and her mind in the stockmarket, always wore her clothes inside out, her shoes on the wrong feet and was buried by sympathetic friends under an upside-down tombstone; "Guttersnipe," a filthy scavenger who was hooted by the city's children, and left $15,000 to one moppet who did not hoot; "The Great Unknown," an insane dandy in frock coat and varnished boots who never looked at or spoke to anyone; "Whispering Riley," who never spoke above a murmur; "Rosy the Tramp" who shaved his whiskers with a candle; Freddy Coombs, who thought he was George Washington; "The Drummer Boy" who never ceased drumming. But maddest and best loved of all was Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

Joshua Abraham Norton, an English Jew, came to San Francisco from South Africa during the '49 gold rush. In 1853 he and a partner tried to corner all the rice in the city, would have done so had not two rice ships arrived unexpectedly in the harbor. Ruin unseated Joshua Norton's reason. He vanished for four years, then turned up in an ill-fitting naval uniform set off with tarnished gold braid and a sabre. He said the California Legislature had made him Emperor of the State. Later, lest his title indicate that California was not part of the Union, he proclaimed himself Emperor of the U. S. When a friend called his attention to the sorry state of Mexican affairs, Norton I decreed himself Protector of Mexico. He dropped this title after ill-fated Maximilian's brief reign, remarking that "It is impossible to protect such an unsettled nation."

The Emperor made a point of appearing at all public functions, where he was received with honor. The best restaurants dined him and his dogs Bummer and Lazarus free. He rode as an honored guest on coastwise steamship lines, at tended in a front row seat all sessions of the Legislature at Sacramento. Few were heartless enough to ridicule him. When a shopkeeper hung a caricature of him in his window, Norton I smashed it with impunity. His decrees, one of which directed the erection of a bridge from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island which was begun 63 years later under the reign of Herbert Hoover, were solemnly printed in newspapers. Banks cashed his modest, worthless checks and people took his imperial banknotes bearing 7% interest, which he promised to redeem in 1880. That year Norton I died.

Ten thousand San Franciscans attended his funeral in the Masonic cemetery, arranged at a reputed cost of $10,000 by the Pacific Club. Unfortunately, there was no money left for a monument. Last year Jesuits bought the cemetery and the remains of Norton I were removed to a vault. Last week San Franciscans, most of whom knew of the mad old man, his plumed silk hat and gold-ferruled cane only by hearsay, turned out by the hundreds to rebury him at Woodlawn Memorial Park in San Mateo County.

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