Getting Ideas: Emperor Joshua Norton

For me, ideas tend to spray off of things I see or hear, like sparks shooting off when you hit flint and steel together. I was happy to discover recently that author Christopher Moore works the same way — at least sometimes.

Writers hone their craft by reading. Recently, I stumbled across the existence of Joshua Norton, self-proclaimed emperor of San Francisco. This legendary figure walked the streets of his city from 1859 to 1880. During his reign, he issued public proclamations that ranged from a demand for Sacramento to clean its streets to the dissolution of the US Congress.

Local businesses allowed him to eat for free, and he had complementary use of the city’s mass transit. Citizens would even buy his 50-cent imperial treasury bonds. His dogs, Bummer and Lazarus, were exempted from city leash laws. At times, enthusiastic new police officers or dog-catchers would arrest a member of the trio — to citywide outrage. When he died, donations sent him off in style with a procession that extended over two miles.

The Emperor, Bummer and Lazarus are recurring characters in Moore’s San Francisco vampire trilogy: Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck and Bite Me. Maybe I’m the only person for whom this is new information, but there it is.

Ideas are everywhere. It’s just a matter of feeding them when they scratch at the door.

You can find out more about Emperor Norton I of the United States of America at the San Francisco History Encyclopedia page in his honor. Stuff You Missed in History Class has a great podcast on him as well.

As a final note, another author wrote Bummer’s obituary. A (then) little-known journalist by the name of Sam Clemens.

Thanks for listening.

 

 

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