When someone refers to my hometown as “San Fran,” I really bristle. People who live in other parts of the world may think “San Francisco” has too many syllables, but locals don’t ever call it “San Fran.” Ever. And only in an effort to be intentionally gauche or ironic would a resident call it “Frisco.” That’s just wrong, and it immediately identifies anyone who says it as clueless. This judgment goes way, way back. A century and a half ago, by the emperor’s decree, calling the city “Frisco” was a high misdemeanor punishable by a $25 fine.
Today’s interesting “thing” is ostensibly a person, though in fact it’s more of a concept: the notion that someone could declare himself to be an emperor, and—without any force or intimidation—actually get an entire city to go along with the fantasy, at least superficially, for more than 20 years. I am speaking of one of San Francisco’s most colorful historical figures: Joshua A. Norton, a.k.a. His Imperial Majesty Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. [Article Continues…]