eccentric

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?Norton I, Emperor of the United States.? In 1863, when Napoleon III invaded Mexico, he added the title ?Protector of Mexico.? Emperor Norton Muybridge 1869. The collection of the Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley (part of the Lone Mountain College Collection of Stereographs by Eadweard Muybridge, 1867-1880).

?Norton I Emperor of the United States?

It?s the little Bit of Madness that keeps us Sane

Officially, the United States has had forty-five different Presidents. But at one time the country also had another head of state as well as a President it actually had an Emperor.

Although few history books mention his name, in the mid-1800’s Joshua Abraham Norton proclaimed himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. And for almost a quarter of a century, he ruled his vast domain with exemplary benevolence and kindly common sense.

Joshua Abraham Norton (c.1818 ? January 8, 1880), is also known as Norton I or Emperor Norton, was a celebrated citizen of San Francisco who in 1859 proclaimed himself “Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico.” Though he was generally considered insane, or at least highly eccentric, the citizens of San Francisco in the mid to late nineteenth century celebrated Norton’s regal presence and his deeds. He continues to be a patron saint of the unusual and of eccentrics, and he is recognised as a Saint in the Principia Discordia (1970), the main text of the Discordian religion.

Emperor Norton is both a legend and a historical figure. It?s not always easy to tell where one begins and the other one ends.

This much we know about his birth: Joshua Abraham Norton was born to Jewish parents, John and Sarah Norton, in the ?Kentish town of Deptford, England, which now is part of London. The precise date has been trickier to pin down. Most likely, though, he was born on 4 February 1818.

Two years later, in February 1820, young Joshua and his family ? parents, older brother Louis and younger brother Philip (who was born?en voyage) ? set sail from London to South Africa, where his father established a successful ship?s chandlery. His father headed a small Jewish community. As a young man, he initially attempted to run his own business in Cape Town but quickly went bankrupt and started working at his father?s ship chandlery instead.

A half-dozen more siblings were born over the next decade. But, while John Norton’s family had grown by leaps and bounds, his business fortunes started heading south around 1840. By the time he died in 1848 ? preceded by his wife, Sarah, and his two sons, Louis and Philip ??Joshua?s father was insolvent, if not bankrupt.

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Gladys Deacon, age 27, as painted in 1908 by Giovanni Boldini. The painting is in a private collection.

The Curious Life of Gladys

Duchess of Marlborough

It could be said that her unconventional and strange life started when she was eleven and her father killed her mother’s long-time lover. Yes, this was a strange childhood indeed.

Her parents were American and rich. They were in Paris in 1881 when Gladys Deacon, one of their four daughters, was born. The Deacons moved in the best social circles and their children were largely?brought up and educated in?France, mostly in Paris itself.

Gladys? mother was a beautiful woman who had married Edward Deacon when she was quite young and these things, plus the fact that Edward was not the best?of husbands led her towards extramarital affairs

Her mother, Florence, was a glamorous and beautiful woman who had married and embarked on motherhood at a young age. These facts, plus the moral code of the time and her husband?s tempers, virtually made affairs an essential part of her life. She had long-time lover named?Emile Abeille.

Needless to say, Edward Deacon was not the sort of man to take his wife?s unfaithfulness lying down and after pursuing the couple throughout France as they travelled, he hunted them down in Cannes. There he staked out his wife?s bedroom and late at night heard Abeille?s voice. He returned to his room, grabbed his revolver and shot Abeille in the chest.

The dying man staggered into the hallway with Deacon hot on his heels and it was clear to witnesses what had happened. ?Deacon was arrested. As the French are notoriously lenient about crimes of passion he was jailed, but not for murder but manslaughter. With her life now in disarray, Florence sent Gladys to be educated at a convent.

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The Extraordinary Life of Charles Waterton. A generation of British schoolchildren grew up fascinated by his account in Wanderings of riding a large and violently unimpressed cayman for several minutes, and awed by his description of his failure to be bitten by vampire bats in Guiana, though he left his toe deliberately exposed from his hammock for just this purpose night after night.

The Extraordinary Life of Charles Waterton. A generation of British schoolchildren grew up fascinated by his account in Wanderings of riding a large and violently unimpressed cayman for several minutes, and awed by his description of his failure to be bitten by vampire bats in Guiana, though he left his toe deliberately exposed from his hammock for just this purpose night after night.

The Gentle Art of Political Taxidermy

Charles Waterton

“Squire” Charles Waterton, 27th Lord of Walton Hall (Yorkshire, England), hated being called an eccentric, but an eccentric he was. He liked to get under the dinner table and bite the legs of his guests like a dog; he walked barefoot in the tropical forests of British Guiana; he climbed the cross of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome and put his gloves on its lightning conductor. He knocked out a boa constrictor with a mighty punch; he tried to fly from the top of an outhouse (“navigate the atmosphere,” he called it), only to land on the ground with a “foul shake.?

?No one can say that Waterton was not a talented and interesting man. Instead, they said he was eccentric, which, when translated from 19th-century-aristocratic-British-scientist-speak, meant “so crazy we’re pretty sure that he removed his own brain and jammed it in again backwards.”

In the 19th century, when the rich were insane, they were simply eccentric; when the poor were insane, they were crazy. Luckily for Charles Waterton (1782-1865), he inherited a large estate and could insulate himself from legal scrutiny and indulge his whims and interests. Waterton would make a problematic biography, his life filled with front-line environmentalism, exploration, taxidermy, and natural history interests wrapped around a solid steel stake of bizarre personal behaviour. Money was his greatest curative, an elixir of great depth and more understanding than Dr. Freud could ever muster. But ultimately maybe all of this behaviour masked a terminal boredom.

He fashioned weird monstrosities out of hollow animal skins through his own preserving methods (one, the bearded “Nondescript,” made from the skin of a red howler monkey, was probably a caricature of his enemy, Treasury Secretary J.R. Lushington). He bled himself, against doctors’ advice, at least 136 times in his life (“tapping my claret”), and taking from 16 to 20 oz. of blood each time.

But he was not entirely crazy.

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Lee reads several newspapers daily. She especially likes the funnies, and always does the Word Scramble puzzles. ? Jessica Eve Rattner

Lee reads several newspapers daily. She especially likes the funnies, and always does the Word Scramble puzzles. ? Jessica Eve Rattner

House of Charm

House of Charm is the ongoing portrait of Lee, a woman whose eccentricities conceal a beauty and intelligence that most people do not easily see

In?2003, the photographer Jessica Eve Rattner moved into a house in Berkeley, California, around the corner from an old woman named Lee.

At first, Rattner?knew Lee as a shopping-cart pushing raider of recycling bins, a dishevelled old woman with foot-tall dreadlocked hair. But a quick exchange in the driveway, while Lee scoured for recycled cans, changed everything. Instead of dismissing her outright, Rattner became smitten by her intelligence and quirky charm. She asked Lee if it was okay to photograph her, and to her surprise, she agreed.

At first, like others, I knew her as the neighbourhood ?bag lady,? a dread-locked raider of recycling bins who pushed her shopping cart through the early morning streets. Lee?s dilapidated home stood out in a neighbourhood where even the most modest homes were valued at half a million dollars. She had neither heat nor running water. The roof and floors were rotting; many windows were broken; and the rooms were choked with recycling, found objects, and cat feces. The condition of her house was — and continues to be — what most would consider uninhabitable.

Most people perceive Lee as ?crazy,? someone to be avoided. Few get close enough to learn that while she is eccentric, she is also intelligent, charming, and self-assured. And perhaps most remarkably, that she leads the life she chooses to — one for which she is neither apologetic or ashamed.

Rattner has long been interested in ideas of beauty, happiness, and mental health — especially as they relate to women. In a culture obsessed with youth, materialism, and physical appearance, Lee?s apparent indifference to these things sets her apart. Lee will soon turn eighty.?Is Lee crazy to be happy in conditions others could not tolerate? Is something wrong with her? Who decides?

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W. Reginald Bray being delivered by registered post to his home on Devonshire Road. His patient father Edmund Bray is standing in the doorway accepting the receipt from the postman.

W. Reginald Bray being delivered by registered post to his home on Devonshire Road. His patient father Edmund Bray is standing in the doorway accepting the receipt from the postman.

The Englishman Who Posted Himself

and Other Curious Objects

Reginald Bray, was a legendary prankster who, more than one hundred years ago, tested the limits of the British postal system. I?m not sure whether today you could get away with mailing a stamp-covered skull.

Bray was an avid collector who amassed stamps, postmarks, train tickets, and girlfriends, and who, after reading the entire British Post Office Guide, impishly determined to take the rules as challenges. He tried posting an unimaginable array of things, to see whether the post office would deliver them. Apparently, at the time, the smallest item that could be posted was a bee, and the largest an elephant.

Bray seems to have tried most things in between. At one point or another, he mailed a bowler hat, a rabbit skull (the address spelled out on the nasal bone, and the stamps pasted to the back), a purse, a slipper, a clothes brush, seaweed, shirt collars, a penny, a turnip (address and message carved into the durable tuber), an Irish Terrier, and a pipe, among other curios.

Perhaps most remarkably, he posted himself, becoming the first man to send a human through the mail in 1900, and then, through registered mail, in 1903.

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V0007214 Lord Rokeby, an eccentric. Stipple engraving by R. Page. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Lord Rokeby, an eccentric. Stipple engraving by R. Page. after: R. PagePublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Lord Rokeby, an eccentric. Stipple engraving by R. Page.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Water Water Everywhere

The Man who Loved Water

The buzz of expectant chatter among the people at the roadside stopped suddenly when someone called, ?Here he comes ? here?s Lord Rokeby.? And so began the daily ritual for which most people of the village ? for in the mid-1700s this Kentish seaside resort was little more than a village ? were waiting.

Down the road came one of the most astonishing characters the area has ever known ? Lord Rokeby on his way for his daily dip in the sea. And he did have it every day, winter and summer, and always the routine was the same.

First, walking very slowly and always with his hat under his arm, would come the peer of the realm, son of a Gentleman Usher to King George the Second. He was well dressed as befitted his station in life, but he was bent almost double as if he were perpetually carrying a heavy weight. And flowing to his waist, was a beard that in his later years was to reach almost to his knees.

Behind him, came his carriage, empty save for the driver. Then, trailing by this time some distance down the road, Lord Rokeby?s favourite servant, dressed in an expensive and colourful livery. Sometimes, if the servant lagged too far behind, his lordship would tell him to get into the carriage while he himself continued the slow progress on foot from his family home, Mount Morris, some three miles outside Hythe.

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Jemmy Hirst

Jemmy Hirst

?Animal-lover and Inventor Jemmy Hirst

James “Jemmy” Hirst?was born to a farmer family of?Rawcliffe,?Yorkshire. Even at school he kept a pet?jackdaw?and trained a?hedgehog?to follow him around. His parents’ hope that he would become a priest never materialised when he was thrown out of school for his pranks. Hirst was apprenticed to a?tanner, fell in love with his daughter and became engaged to her.

Reputedly Hirst’s eccentricity began when his betrothed died of?smallpox?after he rescued her from a flooding river. At first Hirst retired to his bed and reputedly contracted “brain fever”. When he recovered he continued his habits of animal training.

He made a remarkable comeback and he earned a small fortune speculating on farm produce. This allowed him to spend the rest of his long life back in Rawcliffe as a gentleman farmer, and to be generous in the most eccentric way possible. He supposedly would blow a hunting horn to invite the poor and elderly to his house for refreshments…which were served in his favorite coffin, because where else would you serve them?

In any event, the real boon of his newfound wealth was the ability to take his love of animals to the next level. His two most frequent companions were apparently a fox and an otter, and he even kept a bear named Nicholas. This creature, unfortunately, resisted Hirst’s efforts to tame it, resulting at least once in injury to the eccentric farmer. Equally unsuccessful but significantly less painful was Hirst’s attempt to train a litter of pigs to be foxhounds, but he could never get the piglets to stop grunting, which made them spectacularly ineffective when it came time to sneak up on foxes.

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Photo:Bettmann/Corbis

Photo:Bettmann/Corbis

Who Wants to Impersonate a Billionaire?

Few figures in American life have generated as much wild speculation as the eccentric?Howard Hughes. So the announcement in 1971 that McGraw-Hill and?Life Magazine were about to publish an autobiography of the billionaire hermit naturally incited a media frenzy. The book promised a gloriously lurid tale of money, movie stars, big business, heroic aviation feats, conspiracy theories, plus plenty of bizarre personal habits. Hughes’s autobiography was to be written with the assistance of the writer Clifford Irving, who somehow had managed to secure the paranoid recluse’s trust. Irving claimed he met secretly with Hughes more than a hundred times in Mexico and the Bahamas to tape-record his life story.

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Photo: Rogues Gallery. Cheer up you boring chicken livers, it?s only a Bear?

Photo: Rogues Gallery.
Cheer up you boring chicken livers, it?s only a Bear?

John ?Mad Jack? Mytton

?The Epic Story Of An English Eccentric

Jack Mytton is probably Britain?s greatest all round Bon Viveur, Country Squire, Traveller, Thrill Seeker, Sportsman, Soldier, Huntsman, Houndsman, Race Horse Owner, Gambler, Highwayman, Philanthropist, Boxer, Bear Rider, Politician, and Practical Joker.

It is fairly safe to say Mytton did nothing useful in his life but to enjoy it and seek to amuse others.

In general mental healthcare was rudimentary in the 19th?century, for the poor, it was either begging or being put into some horrific facility like Bedlam. These asylums were where a person would in essence be incarcerated to be kept out of the way of ?decent people?. If however you were wealthy, wildly inappropriate behaviour was shrugged off as ?quirks.? Mytton was the very pinnacle of this type of insane, I mean eccentric, aristocrat. The signs were there pretty early on. He went to the exclusive Westminster School, but was expelled after one year for fighting a master, on school grounds. He was then sent to the equally prestigious Harrow School, but lasted only 3 terms before expulsion. It was then decided it was safest to have him schooled by tutors, but he tormented them with practical jokes that included leaving a horse in one tutor?s bedroom.

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Photo: ? Roman Buxbaum, 1987 Tich? in his homemade outfit with one of his long telephoto lenses. He ground lenses out of plastic with toothpaste and ash, putting them together with cardboard toilet paper tubes, dressmaker?s elastic and old camera parts he found. Tich? famously once said, ?First of all, you have to have a bad camera?, and, ?If you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world.?

Photo: ? Roman Buxbaum, 1987
Tich? in his homemade outfit with one of his long telephoto lenses. He ground lenses out of plastic with toothpaste and ash, putting them together with cardboard toilet paper tubes, dressmaker?s elastic and old camera parts he found.
Tich? famously once said, ?First of all, you have to have a bad camera?, and, ?If you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world.?

The Reclusive Peeping Tom Photographer and his Cardboard Camera

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