Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Emperor Norton" from VOA

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith. This week on our program, we answer a question from a listener in Brazil. Tino Therezo in Sao Paulo wants to know about Joshua Norton. Who is that? Oh, just the man who declared himself emperor of the United States. Here are Steve Ember and Robert Cohen with the story of Emperor Norton.

The small city of Colma, California is just a few kilometers south of San Francisco. Many people visit the city each year to see the burial place of one very unusual man in Colma's Woodlawn Cemetery. These visitors come to see a memorial stone placed on his grave.

The writing on the stone says in large letters: Norton the First, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

Anyone who has studied American history knows that the United States is a democracy. The president and other political leaders of the United States are elected to office by the citizens. There is no royal family, no king, and no emperor.

Yet, Joshua Abraham Norton declared himself to be Emperor of the United States on September seventeenth, eighteen fifty-nine.

He sent an announcement to the newspapers of San Francisco saying he was Emperor Norton the First of the United States and the Protector of Mexico. The newspapers did not publish it.

Many people in San Francisco knew Joshua Norton. He was born in England in eighteen nineteen. He moved to San Francisco from South Africa. He arrived with a lot of money. He later lost all his money in a very bad financial deal. His many friends knew that this greatly affected him.

Joshua Norton no longer was the same man. Most of his friends believed the shock of losing all his money had taken away his ability to reason and to live in the real world. Poor Joshua Norton was not dangerous or violent, but he no longer knew what was real and what was only imaginary.


Soon after he declared himself Emperor of the United States, Joshua Norton began wearing blue military clothing. A soldier at the Army base in San Francisco gave him gold colored buttons and gold cloth. It made his uniform seem as if it belonged to a general. Or perhaps a king. Or even an Emperor.

Emperor Norton the First soon became the best known man in San Francisco. He always wore his uniform and a tall hat. When people saw him they would show the respect given a king or emperor.

Emperor Norton usually did not have any money. But he did not need any. If Emperor Norton went to a restaurant, he was served a meal -- free. If he needed something little from a store, that was also freely given. Sometimes he paid with his own kind of money. It was paper money with his picture on it.

Some stores began placing a small sign in the store window. The sign said, "By Appointment to His Majesty, Emperor Norton the First." The sign meant the store or restaurant had been approved by the emperor of the United States. Stores with the signs noted that their business increased.

Emperor Norton began sending royal orders -- called decrees -- to the newspapers of San Francisco. The newspapers began publishing them. Many people thought they were funny. Some bought the newspapers just to read about the latest decree from the emperor of the United States.

Many of the decrees, however, made people think. For example, Emperor Norton said that Governor Wise of Virginia was to be removed from office by royal decree. Emperor Norton said this was necessary because Governor Wise had ordered the death by hanging of John Brown. John Brown was a rebel who had tried to start a war to free slaves.

Emperor Norton's decree said John Brown had tried to capture the state of Virginia with only seventeen men. That was evidence, Emperor Norton said, that John Brown was mentally sick and should have been put in a hospital for treatment.

Emperor Norton said John Brown never should have been executed. Many people in San Francisco agreed with Emperor Norton. The execution of John Brown was one of the many issues that led to the American Civil War.

Another Emperor Norton decree had to do with the name of the city. Some people often use a short name for city of San Francisco. They call it Frisco. Emperor Norton did not like this short name. He decreed that anyone found guilty of using the word Frisco must pay a penalty of twenty-five dollars. Even today many citizens of San Francisco warn visitors never to call the great city Frisco.

Perhaps Emperor Norton's most famous decree ordered the city government to build a bridge from the city of Oakland to a small island in San Francisco Bay. It said the bridge should extend from the little island to San Francisco.

City leaders did nothing about building the bridge. So Emperor Norton ordered them removed from office. Nothing happened, of course, to the city leaders or about the bridge.

Many years later, after Emperor Norton's death, a bridge was built extending from San Francisco to the city of Oakland. It was placed almost in the exact spot that Emperor Norton had decreed. It is called the Bay Bridge. Thousands of cars pass over it every day.


San Francisco has always been home to many Chinese people. It still is today. One story about Emperor Norton involves the Chinese. In his time many people did not like Chinese people. One group of people organized an anti-Chinese committee. They believed too many Chinese lived in San Francisco. They decided to cause violence in the Chinese area of the city.

Many people knew about the committee's plans but no one did anything to stop the planned violence. One night members of the committee left a meeting and walked toward the area of the city where most of the Chinese lived. As they got close to the area, one man stood in the street blocking their way.

He said nothing. He did not move. His head was low on his chest and he seemed to be praying. The mob of troublemakers stopped. They looked at the old blue uniform with its gold colored buttons. They said nothing. They did nothing. Slowly, the mob turned and walked away. Emperor Norton had prevented the planned violence.

One night, a new member of the San Francisco Police Department arrested Emperor Norton. The young policeman thought anyone who claimed to be the emperor of the United State might be a danger to the public. Very soon a judge and the chief of police arrived at the police station. The judge said. "The emperor has hurt no one that I know of." He quickly ordered the emperor freed and apologized for the mistake. From that time on, the San Francisco policemen showed respect to Joshua Norton by giving a military salute.

On January eighth, eighteen eighty, Emperor Norton was walking along California Street inspecting his city as usual. People in the area saw him fall down. Several rushed to his aid. Moments later it was clear that Joshua Norton was dead.

The next day, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper printed four words in French across the front of the paper. They were "LE ROI EST MORT." The King is Dead.

The newspaper reported the death of the city's most famous citizen. The report said that Joshua Norton had no real money -- not even enough to pay for his burial. Almost immediately, wealthy members of a San Francisco business group collected enough to pay for the funeral.

Businesses closed in San Francisco the day of the funeral. Newspapers reported that more ten thousand people attended the burial ceremony for Emperor Norton. One newspaper said that the world would be a much better place if all kings and emperors were as kind and honest as Joshua Norton.


Today, some stores and restaurants in San Francisco still have signs that say, "By Appointment to His Majesty, Emperor Norton the First." And each year in January, a group of people gather at Joshua Norton's grave to remember him. Then they gather at a nearby tavern to continue the remembrance.

These are local members of E Clampus Vitus, a historical society whose members like to have a good time. They do not want people in Frisco -- oops, make that San Francisco -- to forget the first and only emperor of the United States.

Our program was written by Paul Thompson and Nancy Steinbach. The narrators were Steve Ember and Robert Cohen. I'm Shirley Griffith. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs at We hope you join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Clare Boothe Luce" from VOA

STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

GWEN OUTEN: And I’m Gwen Outen with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about a woman who became famous for her activities in government, the media and the arts. She was a member of Congress and an ambassador. She was a news reporter and magazine editor. And she wrote plays. Her name was Clare Boothe Luce.


STEVE EMBER: Clare Boothe Luce was one of the most influential women in modern American history. Yet she came from simple roots. She was born in New York City in nineteen-oh-three. Clare’s father was a musician and businessman. Her mother had been a dancer.

While Clare was a girl, her parents ended their marriage. She and her brother stayed with their mother. Their mother did not have a lot of money. Yet she was able to send Clare to very good schools. Her mother then married a doctor from Connecticut. Clare’s stepfather, Albert Austin, later served in the United States House of Representatives.

GWEN OUTEN: As a young woman, Clare Boothe was known for her intelligence and good looks. She met her first husband through a family friend. George Tuttle Brokaw was a wealthy man. He also was more than twenty years older than Clare. They were married in nineteen twenty-three and had one child – a daughter. However, her husband had a problem with alcoholic drinks. Their marriage ended after only six years.

Clare developed a serious interest in writing. In nineteen thirty, a friend, the magazine publisher Conde Nast, offered her a job. She wrote comments for pictures published in Vogue, a magazine for women about clothes and fashion. A short time later, she accepted a job at another magazine, Vanity Fair. She wrote reports about social events and famous people in New York. Later these reports were published in a book.

STEVE EMBER: Clare Boothe became a top editor at Vanity Fair. She worked there until nineteen thirty-four. By then, she was also writing plays. One play was called “Abide with Me.” It was about a man who mistreats his wife. “Abide with Me” opened in a theater on Broadway in New York City in nineteen thirty-five. Critics hated it.

Two days after the show opened, Clare Boothe married Henry Robinson Luce. He was a famous and important magazine publisher. He published Time and Fortune magazines. She had first met Henry Luce at a party in New York. At the time, he was married and had two children. He and Clare were married a short time after a court order canceled his first marriage. They would stay together for more than thirty years.


GWEN OUTEN: Clare Boothe Luce returned to writing plays. Her second play, “The Women,” made fun of rich women. It opened on Broadway in nineteen thirty-six. The show was very popular. It was later made into a movie. Another play, “Kiss the Boys Goodbye,” also was a success. So was her next play, “Margin for Error.” All three plays were noted for their use of sharp language and making fun of human failings.

Clare Boothe Luce was known for expressing her opinions. Her most famous saying was: “No good deed goes unpunished.” She often spoke about the problems of women trying to succeed in a world mainly controlled by men. She said: “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes.’ They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.'” She made these comments in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

CLAIRE BOOTHE LUCE: "We women are supposed to be a minority. I’ve never understood that myself since we outnumber the men in actual numbers, and we live five years longer. So I’ve never felt like a minority because, as you know, minorities are never supposed to say anything unkind about one another."

STEVE EMBER: In nineteen forty, Clare Boothe Luce traveled to Europe as a reporter for Life magazine, which was published by her husband.

She visited a number of countries and later wrote reports about how people were dealing with World War Two. She wrote a book about this called “Europe in Spring.” In the book, she noted that people were living in “a world where men have decided to die together because they are unable to find a way to live together." She also reported from Africa, China, India and Burma for Life magazine.

In nineteen forty-two, her stepfather, Albert Austin, died. Mrs. Luce agreed to be the Republican Party candidate for his seat in the House of Representatives from Connecticut. She was elected and entered Congress in January, nineteen forty-three.

Mrs. Luce was a political conservative. She spoke against the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She criticized the Roosevelt administration’s foreign policy. She said it failed to supervise the war effort.

GWEN OUTEN: A tragic event affected Clare Boothe Luce in nineteen forty-four. Her nineteen-year-old daughter Ann was killed in an automobile accident. Mrs. Luce experienced severe emotional problems. She sought help from a number of people, including a Roman Catholic clergyman, the Reverend Fulton J. Sheen. At the time, he was becoming known for his radio broadcasts.

Mrs. Luce demanded to know why God had taken her daughter. Reverend Sheen said the young woman had died so that her mother could learn about the meaning of life.

Mrs. Luce recovered and returned to Congress. She remained popular among the voters of Connecticut and was re-elected to a second term in office. However, she did not seek re-election in nineteen forty-six. Mrs. Luce said she wanted to spend more time with her husband. She also became a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

Mrs. Luce returned to writing. She also edited a book about people considered holy by the Roman Catholic Church.


STEVE EMBER: Clare Boothe Luce criticized the spread of communism after World War Two.

In nineteen fifty-two, she supported the Republican Party’s candidate for president, former General Dwight Eisenhower. He won the election and appointed Mrs. Luce as ambassador to Italy. She became one of the first American women to serve in a major diplomatic position. Mrs. Luce served as the ambassador until nineteen fifty-six. She left Rome after becoming sick with arsenic poisoning caused by paint particles in her bedroom.

GWEN OUTEN: Three years later, President Eisenhower nominated Mrs. Luce as ambassador to Brazil. Most members of the United States Senate supported her nomination. However, some senators were opposed. Among them was Wayne Morse, a Democrat from Oregon.

The Senate approved Mrs. Luce as the new ambassador. After the debate, she said that Senator Morse’s actions were the result of him being “kicked in the head by a horse.” Many Democrats criticized her comment. A few days later she resigned as ambassador.

Mrs. Luce remained active in politics. In nineteen sixty-four, she supported Senator Barry Goldwater as the Republican Party’s candidate for president. She also announced plans to be the Conservative Party candidate for the Senate from New York. However, Republican leaders disapproved and she withdrew from the race.

STEVE EMBER: Clare Boothe Luce retired from public life. She and her husband moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Henry Luce died there in nineteen sixty-seven. He was sixty-eight years old.

Mrs. Luce moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. She lived there until the early nineteen eighties. During that period, she served as an advisor to three presidents. She was a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Then Mrs. Luce moved to Washington, D.C. In nineteen eighty-three, President Ronald Reagan awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That is the highest honor a president can give to an American citizen.

STEVE EMBER: Clare Boothe Luce had a long battle with cancer. She died at her home in nineteen eighty-seven. She was eighty-four years old. She was buried near the remains of her husband in the state of South Carolina.

Experts said Clare Boothe Luce had enough important jobs in government, the media and the arts to satisfy several women. She was often on the list of the ten most important and admired women in the world.


GWEN OUTEN: This program was written by George Grow. Lawan Davis was our producer. I’m Gwen Outen.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. Listen again next week for People in America in VOA Special English.