The Emperor's Cane
The eccentric and much-loved Emperor Norton lives on as his story is recounted frequently and with affection as an example of San Francisco's tolerance. Joshua A. Norton, born in London (in 1811, 1818, or 1879, depending on the source), arrived in San Francisco in 1849 and entered the real estate business. He quickly became quite wealthy, and just as quickly lost everything. As he soldiered through litigation, court dates, and general embarrassment, Norton's sanity apparently slipped away. Reinvented as the center of a fantasy, he declared himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States, on September 17, 1859.
Norton habitually chose a military suit of clothes, often accessorized with sword or cane. He was a man about town, his mangy dogs Bummer and Lazarus at his side. He levied taxes, printed his own scrip--and carried on as emperor until his death in 1880.
Rarely exhibited but treasured in the Society's collections is one of the Emperor's canes, a gnarled wooden stick, inscribed on the silver band at the top "Norton I Emperor."
Bibliographic note: Robert Ernest Cowan wrote "Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico: Joshua A. …