In 1859, America got its first Emperor.
He wasn’t a traditional emperor, because America officially doesn’t do that sort of thing. Nevertheless, emerging from a self-imposed exile following his bankruptcy the previous year,Joshua Nortonproclaimed him the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.
Now, it’s clear that Norton wasn’t a real emperor, but he did become a much loved part of San Franciscan life as people played along. He wore an ornate uniform and wrote dramatic proclamations in the local press, and if he liked a local restaurant he’d award it royal patronage. At one point he walked into the middle of a riot targeting Chinese workers and recited the Lord’s Prayer until the rioters dispersed. And when he died in 1880, tens of thousands lined the streets to say their final farewells to their beloved emperor. Reading the tributes is a moving experience: “Emperor Norton…
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