5 People Who Rode the Crazy Train to Fame and Fortune

  • November 28, 2010
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Emperor Norton: San Francisco's Royally Crazy Mascot

The Crazy

Many a man has seen his life change after a major business failure. Some bounce back, other drop out. But only one became the most beloved man in a major US city.

Such was the case with Joshua Norton, a businessman whose luck turned when he made a bad deal for Peruvian rice (surprisingly not slang for cocaine). Norton hoped to exploit a ban on rice exports from China. Unfortunately, so did everyone else, dropping the price of rice and wiping out Norton.


Norton was ruined and went into exile. But the failed businessman would not be kept down. He returned in 1858 and wrote letters to the local newspaper declaring himself “Emperor of these United States”. He later added “Protector of Mexico” to his title.

The newspapers, seeing this as funny, printed the proclamations. This encouraged Emperor Norton to issue more proclamation, such as dissolving Congress and ordering Army to do so by force. Failing that, he wrote to the Protestant and Catholic Churches to demand they use their god-ordained powers to name him Emperor.

The Success

Norton may have been a crazy bastard, but he was San Francisco’s crazy bastard. Despite his quirks, he was a beloved citizen. He would spend his days walking the city to make sure public spaces were in good repair. His royal proclamations included several benefiting his home city, such as demanding a $25 dollar fine for the High Misdemeanor of calling the city “Frisco”. Despite having no means of support he ate at the finest restaurants for free, and the restaurant's would have plaques stating “Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I of the United States” to boost business. Local theaters always reserved balcony seats for him. When he did pay money, it was his own currency.


Once a young upstart police officer arrested Norton and had him committed to an insane asylum. This led to protests and scathing editorials. The Police Chief publicly apologized and freed Norton. Norton, who was benevolent eccentric dictator, pardoned the offending officer. After that, all police officers saluted Norton when they passed him on the street.


When he died he was given an expensive casket by local business leaders and his burial was paid for by the city. Thirty thousand citizens of San Francisco lined the streets to pay homage to their fallen eccentric emperor. He was immortalized by Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Neil Gaiman and Christopher Moore.


George Fabyan

The Crazy

George Fabyan was a wealthy cloth dealer that retired to focus on cryptography, the study of codes. He believed that Shakespeare's works were really written by Sir Francis Bacon and trained many cryptologists to prove the point.


He even convinced a Chicago judge of the fact when he was sued by the filmmaker who thought a book on the subject would hurt a Shakespeare film release.

The Success

Fabyan cryptologists were essential to the US war efforts in World War I. The US Army didn't have enough code breakers and relied on Fabyan's people. They ended up cracking the German and Mexican codes and providing valuable intelligence to the US.

Written by Philip Moon – Copyrighted © www.weirdworm.com Image Sources

Image sources:

  • - “Lord” Timothy Dexter, an early American Forrest Gump: http://www.coolantarctica.com/gallery/whales_whaling/images/028.jpg
  • - John Mytton:
  • - William Price, Doctor of Crazy: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/f/ff/Dr_William_Price_-_Statue.jpg/220px-Dr_William_Price_-_Statue.jpg
  • - Emperor Norton: San Francisco's Royally Crazy Mascot: http://www.novonews.lv:8080/files/world/00_1214578626 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Nort10d.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/21/Emperor_Joshua_A._Norton_I.jpg/396px-Emperor_Joshua_A._Norton_I.jpg
  • - George Fabyan: http://www.teatroenmiami.net/2003/febrero/3/gph/sh-bc.jpg


  • http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4462621
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Dexter
  • http://www.lordtimothydexter.com/index.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Mytton
  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/A678026
  • http://www.molossia.org/norton.html
  • http://www.emperornorton.net/NortonI-Cowan.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_Norton#Declares_himself_.22Emperor.22
  • http://web.archive.org/web/20011110135107/http://www.nandotimes.com/entertainment/story/26312p-469652c.html
  • http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/fortune/0702/gallery.rich_eccentrics.fortune/5.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimmermann_Telegram