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Emperor Norton (wikipedia.org)
92 points by tosh on Aug 10, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments

Wow what a character, terrific find. I found this to be just amazing:

"Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word "Frisco," which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars."


"Norton was occasionally a visionary, and some of his Imperial Decrees exhibited profound foresight. He issued instructions to form a League of Nations, he explicitly forbade any form of conflict between religions or their sects, and he decreed the construction of a suspension bridge or tunnel connecting Oakland and San Francisco."

Odd that this made the front page of HN, but heck, let’s roll with it.

A friend of a friend actually does very fun tours around SF as Emperor Norton. Amusing and informative.


I second this recommendation! We took the Emperor Norton tour a couple of years ago. It was great fun and we learned a lot of San Francisco history. You even get to go into one of the tunnels where they Shanghaied people. [1]

Since I had done my homework before taking the tour, we had a bit of fun at the beginning when the group met in Union Square. A dog went running by and the Emperor said, "Bummer, is that you?" I called out "Bummer, get Lazarus!" [2] [3]

The Emperor also offers a food tour in his modern disguise as Chef Joseph. Maybe we will take that one next! [4]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghaiing

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bummer_and_Lazarus

[3] https://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/bummer-and-lazarus-san-fra...

[4] http://www.sffoodsafari.com/index.html

I went on this tour and can’t recommend it enough. Absolutely fantastic and extremely interesting. Pass on my congratulations to your friend!

> "Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word "Frisco," which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars." <

Good luck telling that to the Hells Angels. Their patches read "Frisco."

$25 USD was not pocket money in 1859. Accounting for inflation, it's about $750 in 2019 money.

I think that probably understates the magnitude, too. $25 could be several weeks' wages for a typical worker.

I first learned about the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico from a charming little doorstopper called The Illuminatus! Trilogy. It was certainly an influential work for me as a young man. It goes to show that reality is far weirder and cooler than commonly thought.

This. Also on the front page is Bucky Fuller. And the KLF was mentioned in the Katy Perry/Dark Horse comments. Now all we need is Stewart Brand(1) and John Cunningham Lilly(2). Both are heroes of mine.

(1) Whole Earth Catalog / Co-Evolution Quarterly/Whole Earth Review (and the delicious Gossip columns).

(2) Programming and Meta-Programming in the Human Bio-Computer (and the prescient intro in later editions about the work having a curious history on par with...x...destroyer of young brains, mind and fetuses).

First heard about him at a cheap drinks place named after him in the Tenderloins. Interesting dude.

I first learned about him from The Sandman comic book series, it is a nice take on the real story.

You may find the movie 23[0] of interest.

[0] - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/23_(film)


(I want you to know that I'm not downvoting you because this is a bad post, but rather, because I think this being greyed out would add excellently to the joke)

It would almost have been worth making a temporary account in the name of John Dillinger for the first post.

I still think the new span of the Bay Bridge should have been named the Emperor Norton Memorial Bridge.

I always think of it as such when crossing it. There’s at least one petition out there to officially name it that, which I think would be awesome.

Names are what people call things. If enough people call it the Emperor Norton Bridge then that is its name. So do so.

In 1769 London opened a bridge which it had named after an important political figure, William Pitt the Elder. But almost nobody called it "William Pitt Bridge". It was in a district people called "Blackfriars" because there had once been a monastery there, so they called it "Blackfriars Bridge". For the modern replacement they didn't even bother, it mentions Pitt on a plaque somewhere, but from the outset everyone has called it Blackfriars Bridge and so that's its name.

It is rude to do this to people, although it will work. But for inanimate objects this is how you change their name.

The best part is the general tolerance of the guy and the good humour it was taken in.

No outrage from the public or overreaction from the law over some harmless old guy making a symbolic gesture. The frontier sounded like my kind of people.

This reminds me of Pjotr Kraska, better known as 'the King of Zurich' (who died in 2016).

Unfortunately I can't find anything about him in English, but here's a link in German:


A really interesting fellow. Obviously had some mental health issues but was tolerated (surprisingly and warmly by Swiss standards) by the public and officials.

Ah, I'm glad to see this make it to HN. I first learned of Emperor Norton sometime back in the 00's when I was listening to music by Emperor Norton Records. I looked them up, and learned about Emperor Norton himself in the process. It's a very San Francisco story, to me. I love it.

This guy needed Twitter.

Speaking of which, seems like there're probably folks like him around today.. anyone know of any?

Also recently discussed on Stuff You Should Know podcast:


I miss the record label. It signed all my favorite bands.

If you are interested in historical absurdities of the American West such as Emperor Norton, I encourage you to check out the Clampers (ECV).

I found out about him through The Sandmam by Neil Gaiman.

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