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George P. Burdell-the man, the myth, well, the myth|
By Pat Edwards
Ramblin Reck Club
February 25, 2000
George P. Burdell. If there was ever a quintessential inside joke, or a secret handshake of recognition for Tech students and alumni over the years, it would have to be Tech's ubiquitous "Kilroy."
George was born sometime in the 1920s, 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 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 strict disciplinarian. Butler was also a staunch alumnus of UGA, and was also a former player on one of the original Cowtown football teams.
But Ed lost his nerve, and halted at "George P. B." 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 rolls and began his career at Tech.
Although George entered Tech under the administration of the stern Dr. M. L. Brittain, he was able to continue his education; his class work was often submitted by conspiratorial students and Ed Smith. Smith would submit 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, and in 1930, George's education climaxed with his being granted his Bachelor's 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 Master's, as well.
But George Burdell's loyalties extended beyond Tech. During the second world war, 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 finally caught on to the prank, but only after the perpetrator(s) were 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, but it was in Europe that his fame cost him his wings. 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; discovering that only one other flier had been a Tech alumnus, he caught the prankster and killed George's flying career.
Undaunted, George went back to sea and was reputed to have served out the remainder of the war on several ships ranging 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 until it was banned in 1953 by members of the administration.
About this time, Robert Wallace, Jr, lamented in his history of Georgia Tech, Dress Her in White and Gold, that George was fading away and was likely to die.
Never one to fit people's expectations, however, George would return to the Tech class rolls 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. In the spring quarters of 1975 and 1986, although the system had been revamped, George enrolled again for similarly ambitious schedules.
George Burdell isn't just some campus hermit or computer-lab recluse. This man can get out and about, on occasion. Many airports, restaurants, bars, and hotels in America and beyond have been left wondering who this George P. Burdell is, and why he gets so many calls (or letters, or deliveries, etc., etc.) George is also paged at almost every away Tech football game.
George has also bought untold dollars' worth of mail-order merchandise, magazine subscriptions, insurance, furniture and credit cards, without paying for any of it.
As students and alumni devise new and creative ways to keep George P. Burdell alive in the future, a cherished part of Tech history and culture will continue to 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.