An excerpt from Herbert Asbury's The Barbary Coast. There's a Sandman story about this, but I always thought Neil Gaiman just made him up.

"By far the best known of all San Francisco?s queer characters, however, was the Emperor Norton, whose real name was Joshua A. Norton. He was born in England in 1819 and at the age of thirty came to San Francisco with forty thousand dollars, with which he established himself as a real-estate operator and broker. Within ten years he had increased his fortune to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, all of which he lost in an unlucky investment.

"The financial disaster unbalanced his mind, and on September 17, 1859 he sent to the newspapers an announcement that the California Legislature had chosen him Emperor of the United States, and that henceforth he must be addressed by his proper title. For a while he also called himself Protector of Mexico. For nearly thirty years he was one of the best-known men in San Francisco. Each afternoon he promenaded the down-town streets, graciously greeting his subjects. He wore a blue military uniform with tarnished gold-plated epaulets, which had been given him by the officers at the United States Army post, the Presidio, and a beaver hat decorated with a feather and a rosette, and he always carried both a cane and an umbrella.

"When his uniform began to look shabby, the Board of Supervisors, with a great deal of ceremony, appropriated enough money to buy him another, for which the Emperor sent them a gracious note of thanks and a patent of nobility for each Supervisor. He ate without paying at whatever restaurant, lunch-room, or saloon took his fancy; and whenever he wanted cash, he issued bonds in the denomination of fifty cents and sold them to his subjects. He also drew an occasional check for that amount, and it was invariably honored by the San Francisco bankers and merchants. On January 8, 1880 the Emperor died, leaving an estate which consisted of a two-dollar-and-a-half gold piece, three dollars in silver, a franc piece of 1828, and 98,200 shares of stock in a worthless gold mine."

Thinking of this man seems to provide some kind of lifelong comfort. When things get rough, we all have the capability to get through them. Crazy or no, at least he was happy.