Colma, California: Emperor Norton GraveAmerica's only emperor (self-proclaimed) is buried in a relatively modest grave.
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Lots of men can lay claim to the fact they once were presidents of this great country. But how many people have ever been crowned "Emperor of the United States?"
As far as we know, only one, and it happened in 1859.
His name was Joshua Norton and he migrated from England to San Francisco in 1849. A "mini-Bill Gates" of the day, Norton quickly amassed a small fortune only to see it all slip away by 1858, when he found himself penniless.
Vacating society for nine months, Norton returned in 1859, proudly clutching a written proclamation declaring him "Emperor of the United States," as duly appointed by the citizens of this great land. The San Francisco Bulletin (a regional newspaper at the time) printed Norton's bizarre announcement.
More astounding was the fact that San Franciscans citywide embraced Norton's reign. A local print shop circulated monetary notes (the same as cash) in Norton's name. With said "legal specie," the self-proclaimed emperor was able to dine at the finest of restaurants and shop in the most extravagant markets. The Grand Hotel provided free lodging.
During his tenure, Norton singlehandedly dissolved congress, eradicated the union, worked toward relieving the Bible of what he deemed "false lights" and pronounced himself official "Protector of Mexico." Among Norton's lesser accomplishments was a moratorium on the word "frisco" (which San Franciscans despise). According to royal decree, anybody found using the repugnant "f word" would be fined twenty-five dollars which, of course, was retained by the coffers of the imperial treasury.
Norton dressed ornately in regal naval attire, performing daily "inspections" of local neighborhoods. According to the tale, our one-time emperor had more sway with people than you might imagine, calming would-be rioters using nothing more than words.
In 1880, Norton collapsed and perished. During a funeral befitting a king, a procession two miles long was comprised of more than thirty-thousand mourners. a local business association outfitted Norton with the finest of rosewood caskets, while San Francisco, itself, footed the bill for his funerary service and regional newspapers ran obituaries with headlines reading the likes of "the king is dead."
Norton l's grave is at the Woodlawn Cemetery.[Paul Bottini, 06/27/2008]
I highly recommend that visitors to San Francisco, CA, take a jaunt just south to Colma (in fact, when friends visit, I physically enforce this recommendation). Colma is known for having more people under the ground than above it -- with land being at a premium in San Francisco, all but a couple tiny historic cemeteries in the city were dug up and relocated back in the 30's or so. Not only is a city of nothing but cemeteries eminently cool to begin with (and the theme cemeteries -- Syrian, animal, etc. are a nice bonus), but there are at least two real luminaries there.
One is Emperor Norton -- Victorian era loony and beloved civic symbol, whose plain headstone (in Woodlawn Cemetery) simply reads: "Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico." The folks at the cemetery office tell me that every year there is a HUGE birthday celebration for him there.
The other is Wyatt Earp -- who is buried in the Jewish Cemetery down the road (closed on Saturdays) with his Jewish wife. When I visited the first time, they had a plain little ground level plaque. When I went back the next year to show my kid, danged if there wasn't a big, poshy new upright headstone, in front of which some admirers had placed cigars and poker chips -- he's still got admirers![Sadie O., 12/22/1997]