Willie Coombs, also known as George Washington II, was a small-time phrenologist who almost made it big as Norton's chief rival. Early reports by Colonel Moustache spoke of both them as crowning glories of the city's indigent population. Coombs, a native of New York, walked through the city, carrying a banner and wearing a tricorn hat over his long powdered hair. Herbert Ashbury says that he wore a Continental uniform of tanned buckskin. A plump little man, he was confident of his comeliness and touted himself via the banner, posters, and his own voice as The Great Matrimonial Candidate.
He was one of many habitues of Martin and Horton's saloon. Here he spent his evenings imbibing steam beer and poring over maps and documents, planning his battles. He composed messages to Congress and to other nations, much like Norton did. It is hard to say who imitated who, but the jealousy they felt towards one another was intense. Like Norton, Coombs took his persona seriously and once spent a winter starving himself until friends convinced him that Valley Forge was over.
Coombs left the city abruptly after a clash with the Emperor. One day, he stormed into the police station, claiming that Emperor Norton was tearing down his posters. The police chuckled and informed him that there was no law against this; he would have to resort to civil action. George Washington II had no money, so he did as Norton did and went to Norton's favorite newspaper of the day, the Alta California, where he told his sad story. When asked why Norton would do such a thing, Coombs replied "Because he is jealous of my reputation with the fair sex."
Soon after, the Alta published an article describing its two resident crackpots. It made fun of Norton's slovenliness and pointed to the "light of insanity" shining in the eyes of Coombs. Both men stormed into the Alta and, declaring their perfect sanity, demanded a retraction.
A few days later, the Alta printed a new proclamation from Norton directing the Chief of Police to "seize upon the person of Professor Coombs, falsely called Washington No. 2, as a seditious and turbulent fellow, and to have him sent forthwith, for his own good and the public good, to the State Lunatic Asylum for at least thirty days." Coombs found it expedient to go back home to New York.
Mark Twain found him there in 1868, still thinking himself to be George Washington's reincarnation and displaying his legs for the enjoyment of the ladies. He petitioned Congress to give him the William Penn Mansion in Philadelphia and, when this edifice was torn down, he requested they give him the Washington Monument.