By Pat Edwards
Ramblin Reck Club
George P. Burdell was born sometime in the 1920's, where everyone who attended the Institute during that decade claims to have fathered him. The best candidate for paternity, however, is William Edgar (Ed) Smith.
Ed, as he related in a 1977 Atlanta Constitution article, was inadvertently issued two applications for admissions in 1927. Rather than discard or return the superfluous form, Ed took the opportunity to play a little prank. He filled in his own application and began to fill in the other with the name of George P. Butler.
George Butler was the headmaster of Smith's old high school at the time, and was reputed to be a rather draconian disciplinarian. Further, Butler was also a staunch alumnus of Farmboy U. (UGA), and was also a former player on one of the original Cowtown football teams. All of which meant that Butler, had three strikes against him already, and was worthy of any slander that Smith would inflict upon him.
But, Ed lost his nerve here, and halted at George P. Burdell. He finished by filling in the name of Burdell, which has been alternately attributed to a either a family cat or his best friend's mother s maiden name. From here George entered the class roles and began his career at Tech.
Although George entered Tech under the administration of the stern and combative Dr. M. L. Brittain, the ethereal personage was able to continue his education, often with class work submitted by conspiratory students and Ed Smith. Smith would submitted duplicates of his assignments to professors, altering the handwriting and material sufficiently to fool the graders. Ed was able to enroll George into all of his classes, throughout his own Tech career, and, in 1930, George's education climaxed with his being conferred with his Bachelor of Science degree.
It was not long after George's graduation, that the tale of Ed Smith's mischief was revealed to a red-faced Tech administration, and an otherwise delighted Tech community. George so valued his Tech education, that other students adopted George P. Burdell and he received his Masters, as well.
But George Burdell's loyalties extended beyond Tech. During WWII, George P. Burdell served his country in uniform. He first served at Harvard University, where he was enrolled both as a student and a member of a Navy officer's training school. The administration of the prestigious Harvard finally caught on to the prank, but only after the perpetrator(s) were long gone.
Later in World War II, George changed his branch of service, and enlisted into the Eighth Air Force. Here George led a more visible career, with a longer paper trail. His name first showed-up in aircraft in North Africa and later in Europe and a flight officer, who happened to also be a Tech alumnus, was reviewing the flight roster for a formation of B-17's, when he spotted the name of George P. Burdell. The officer reviewed the records of his crews, and discovering that only one other flier had been a Tech alumnus, caught the prankster, and killed George's flying career.
Undaunted though, George went back to sea and was reputed to have served out the remainder of the war on several ships ranging from aircraft carriers to submarines.
Through the fifties and sixties, George returned to Georgia Tech to contribute frequent letters to the Atlanta papers as well as the Technique and the old Yellow Jacket magazine, a satirical magazine that George belonged to, off and on, until it was banned by members of the administration for being just a little too pointed with the wrong people, in 1953.
But never one to fit people's expectations, George was to return to the Tech class roles with the advent of the first automated registration system. In the spring quarter of 1969, the first quarter that Tech's registration was fully automated, George was registered for every class that was offered on campus, for a class load of over 3,000 hours! Again in the spring quarters of 1975 and 1986, although the system had been revamped in order to eliminate the prank from being repeated, George enrolled again for similarly ambitious schedules.
As students and alumni devise new, creative ways to keep George P. Burdell alive in the future, a cherished part of Tech history and culture will continue survive, and George P. Burdell will continue to grant anyone in the Tech community that discovers him, a good laugh and a story to tell.
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