Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Over time I have seen quite a bit of material on the legend of the Georgia Werewolf-Emily Isabella Burt. Apparently, Ms. Burt was a resident of Talbot County, a rural county in southwest Georgia between Macon and Columbus. The Burt family, a wealthy and prominent family in the Talbot County community, had several children. According to the late Nancy Roberts in her book "Georgia Ghosts" published by John F. Blair publishers in 1997, there was Sarah, Mildred, Emily Isabella and Joel. Mrs. Burt was widowed by the age of thirty-seven and had inherited a nice estate from her deceased husband.
Of all of her children, it appears that Emily Isabella was the one with the most problems. For one, she had inherited a lot of physical traits from her father, including dark hair and bushy eyebrows. However, she was said to have had sharp, white canine teeth that made her smile quite disturbing. In one report, Roberts claims that Emily Isabella's mother took her to a local dentist to see if the teeth could be altered in any way. He could do nothing for her. Soon afterwards, she fell ill and suffered from restless nights. The only thing that seemed to allay those sleepless nights was an elixir that contained opium. Nevertheless, the elixir was not fullproof, and some nights, Emily Isabella roamed the countryside. In addition to these strange issues, Emily Isabella had a fondness for reading, and her subject of choice was the supernatural. Given the fact that part of her mother's inheritance upon the death of her father was a vast collection of books, this affinity for reading was quite convenient. Even her mother was fond of this reading habit, as it was a way to keep an eye on Emily Isabella as she stayed home and read in the family library.
Legend has it that the beau of one of Emily Isabella's sisters, a William Gorman, reported to the Burts that something was killing his sheep. Fearful that this may soon be happening to her animals, Mrs. Mildred Burt became quite concerned. On ensuing visits, Gorman would recount stories about more sheep killings and that some of his cattle were killed as well. He was concerned about the killings and decided to take action. He reported that he was going to be putting together what amounted to a posse. Their intentions were to shoot and kill whatever beast was doing the damage. Emily Isabella was unusually interested in what was going on and what events had transgressed in the hunt for this animal.
On the night of the big hunt, Mildred Burt, who also had inherited more than a few guns and was a great markswoman, went out with her pistol. She apparently suspected that Emily Isabella was somehow involved with the killings and she wanted to be prepared for anything. As she was near the area, an animal lunged for her and she fired. It ran away. Interestingly enough, the next morning, it was reported that Emily Isabella was missing her left hand. After being taken to a local physician, her mother decided to send her to Paris to be treated by a doctor who specialized in lycanthropy, a disorder that made its victims think they were werewolves. While she was in Paris, the attacks stopped, and once she returned, supposedly cured, the attacks fell to a minimum.
Isabella remained in Talbot County until her death in 1911. She was 70 years old and is buried in the Owens and Holmes Cemetery near Woodland. Her story has endured, but not everyone is convinced this legend is true.
The Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research has done some looking in to the story. In a report on their website, the forum moderator, only identified as Denise, filed a report on the legend claiming that it was false. Her post is on the website and I have linked it to this blog. Click on the title of this post and it will take you directly to the article. The picture above is of the cemetery where Emily Isabella is buried, and was taken by the SIPR group who adopted the cemetery and has cleaned it up a good bit. In her report, she says there is no evidence to corroborate that Emily Isabella Burt was a werewolf. She and her group have adopted the cemetery in which Emily Isabella was buried and have pictures on their website of the location. Her report mentions that the memorial marker to her mentions that she was well-known and well-liked in her community, certainly not things said about someone who was a pariah of sorts. Denise reports that newspaper reports from that time claim that the attacks were the result of a "rabid wild animal" and nothing more. She also mentions that the Paris trip was to see relatives and friends there, not to see a doctor who treated lycanthropy. But there are some who question these conclusions. One of the Burt relatives, an English professor who teaches at a local community college in Atlanta says that it is possible that the Paris trip was to see a doctor for her condition. He commented that it is quite likely that the family would have said that Isabella was visiting family, for they most certainly would not have let it out that she was seeing a doctor, for there would be a lot of questions as to why she could not be treated here. A trip across the Atlantic to see a physician would breed questions. Good point.
So was there anything to this legend? This story has shown up in a good many books on the supernatural and strange in Georgia. As mentioned earlier, Nancy Roberts wrote of it in her book "Georgia Ghosts." It also appears in Jim Miles' "Weird Georgia", as well as Dr. Alan Brown's "Haunted Georgia." I am sure there are a host of others. Was Emily Isabella a lycanthrope and the stories told all true? Or was the explanation that Diane Denise of SIPR valid? Was the trip to Paris to see a doctor or relatives? More research should be done on this topic.