Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Legend of the Georgia Werewolf Girl


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.

11 comments:

The Doctor said...

I have read about this lady before. There has been talk that she might have thought that she was a werewolf. The trip to Paris would raise lots of questions in the minds of the people who lived in the area at the time as well as those of today who would wonder about her condition. I thought it interesting that she was to have showed up the next morning missing her hand. How did she keep from bleeding to death? My mom told me about a creature that was kept in a cell at the Milledgeville Hospital for the Insane back in the 1940's. The creature had the appearance of a wolfman and would cry if someone came close to him. Sleep walkers have been known to do some strange things. I have heard cases where a sleep walking person has actually committed crimes and never knew what they were doing. But for this lady in Talbot County it would be interesting to find a picture of her to see her odd features.

Caprice said...

Really interesting story!!
Boy, SIPR sure has done a nice job cleaning up that cemetery!
I would like to see a picture of her too.
It IS interesting, however, that with the loss of livestock such a problem, there was not a great declaration when the wild animal was finally killed. In SIPR's article disputing the Werewolf Girl, they just state that it was probably a wild animal and not that the culprit was caught and killed. I don't think an animal stops killing livestock on it's own. Even domestic dogs have to be put down when they get a taste for livestock - the animals just do not stop eating the easy meal.
... and just HOW did she get her hand shot off?! That is very curious!!
I can see her family taking her overseas for a special doctor - heck - people took their children overseas for things as mundane as acne!

The Professor said...

Yes, those are interesting points. I have often wondered how her hand was taken off or shot off. A friend of mine who is the head of the humanities division here is a relative of this woman. The Burts were cousins of his. He says this legend has endured in his family as well. Interestingly enough, he is also related to Major Archie Butts who went down on the Titanic.

Like you, I find too many holes in the story. First, what WAS killing all those animals, and when did it stop and how? My friend and I are planning a trip to the area this Christmas break to look in to the story. We are going to go by the library and to the newspaper office there to see what the paper carried about the story back in the day.

The Doctor said...

Hello my friend. You might want to check with the probate court there to see if they have any of the newspapers of the day. A lot of our newspapers here in Henry County are kept by the probate court and it might be worth a shot to look there.

Caprice said...

Excellent idea!
Please let us know if you follow up on this,Prof!
Very interesting story!

WolfBoy said...

This isn't the only story of werewolves in Georgia. There have been recent sightings of something reported to be a human-wolf hybrid in Cherokee County. Check out my blog, I've got the whole story.

Denise said...

SIPR Denise here... I think it's safe to say that we have completely debunked the Georgia Werewolf story as it relates to Emily Isabella Burt.

She wasn't mentally ill. She did not suffer from from the mental disease known as Lycanthropy.

She was, in fact, a very successful businesswoman who left a sizable estate to her loved ones upon her death in 1911.

I have a copy of her last will and testament as well as her obituary. She was well loved by family and friends and not once was referred to as "Miss Werewolf".

Should anyone wish to respectfully visit her grave - please do not trespass and seek permission from the current property owner.

The Professor said...

Thanks for posting, Denise. Good work you guys did on that cemetery. We need more people to take an initiative like you guys did.

However, as I too do not feel this woman was a werewolf, I do have some very big questions about the story. While having her last will and testament and obituary is a good thing, it does not clear up all those questions. Has your research shed any light on the questions that I and other posters above have brought up. I am very interested in what you have found.

I am planning a trip to the area with that relative I spoke about in the original post to do some research in family records, newspaper accounts, and with his father's help, some old police records. Anything turn up when you were looking around?

Denise said...

Hi There Professor,

I posted a very long comment, but I guess it was too long. lol

In short - I believe that the whole story as it relates to Emily Isabella Burt came from the imagination of some excellent story tellers.

Do I believe there was a mysterious beast roaming the countryside killing livestock? Based on newspaper clippings of the time - I believe they believed a normal animal was behaving abnormally.

We're heading out of state for Thanksgiving, but I'll be in Talbotton/Woodland on December 4th for an investigation at another site. If you would like to meet earlier in the day, I'd be happy to do that and share with you everything I've found thus far.

Give me a call or shoot me an e-mail.

atlantaghosts@comcast.net
678-267-0542

Stormy said...

Perhaps her picture and a much better account of the stories would be of interest.

http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~opus/p1800.htm

Bielle said...

I first came across this story in my copy of "Weird Georgia" and have always held an interest in it, mainly because I live less than 15 miles from Talbot County in neighboring Harris County. Something made me think of this story recently (though I can't remember what) and I decided to look it up on the Internet. What I find most interesting about this legend is the fact that the accused "werewolf" is actually named. It's not often you come across a werewolf story where not only is the "werewolf" named but the person actually existed, they weren't made up. Add to that the fact that the "werewolf" is a young woman from a prominent, respected family.

I'm more interested in how this story got started in the first place. Was it done with malicious intent or was it a little rumor that snowballed out of control and people's imaginations got the better of them? I'm also curious to know if this story was started during or after Miss Burt's life. I can't help but feel bad for her and her reputation. Seems like she turned out more normal than the stories would have us believe.