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Sermon illustrations

Insanity

The Emperor of the United States

Did you know the United States once had an emperor? Believe it or not, it’s true – at least, it was in the rather confused mind of Joshua A. Norton.

 Norton lived in San Francisco during the gold-rush days of the 1800’s. He was a colorful character, to say the least. When speculation in the rice market brought him to financial ruin, something happened to Norton’s mind. He declared himself “Emperor of These United States.” It might have been a practical joke, or it might have been the result of a clouded mind. Whatever the initial reason, Norton’s pretending soon grew into a delusion. In 1859 he published a proclamation that he was emperor according to an act of the California legislature. He found a sword, stuck a plume in his hat, found a cape, and marched the streets in colorful costume.

The citizens of San Francisco were amused by this ploy and so played the game with him. They gave him recognition with free tickets to special events. He was invited to gala opening nights. In fact, they allowed him to collect a small tax and issue his own currency. It was all done in the spirit of fun. But to Norton it was serious business. In fact, he expanded his authority to “Emperor of These United States and Protector of Mexico. When he died in 1880, more than ten thousand curious people attended Norton’s funeral service – one of the largest funerals ever to take place in California. He lived and died in his own delusion of grandeur. He didn’t hurt anyone; in fact, he brought a bit of a smile and a chuckle to people who came across his path.

Andy Cook

Giving Away What Wasn’t His

When 67-year-old carpenter Russell Herman died in 1994, his will included a staggering set of bequests. Included in his plan for distribution was more than two billion dollars for the City of East St. Louis, another billion and a half for the State of Illinois, two and a half billion for the national forest system, and to top off the list, Herman left six trillion dollars to the government to help pay off the national debt. That sounds amazingly generous, but there was a small problem—Herman’s only asset when he died was a 1983 Oldsmobile. He made grand pronouncements, but there was no real generosity involved. His promises were meaningless because there was nothing to back them up.

That sounds amazingly generous, but there was a small problem—Herman’s only asset when he died was a 1983 Oldsmobile. He made grand pronouncements, but there was no real generosity involved. His promises were meaningless because there was nothing to back them up.”

Source: The Chicago Tribune, June 13, 1995.

My Chicken Brother

A man goes to see a psychiatrist. He says, “Doctor, my brother’s crazy—he thinks he’s a chicken.” The psychiatrist says, “Well, why don’t you bring him in?” And the fellow replies, “Oh, I would, but we need him out there laying the eggs.”

From Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity, Liveright.

See also illustrations on Mental Illness