People come to Augusta each year for golf, but in 1884 a west Georgia family came to town for answers.
In May of that year faculty at the Medical College of Georgia gathered around a teenage girl and tried to determine her secrets. The effort, as far as we know, was unsuccessful.
Her name was Lulu Hurst, and she was called by The Augusta Chronicle “The Amazing Wonder of the Nineteenth Century.”
What made her a wonder?
The story Lulu and her parents liked to share was that she had been struck by lightning during a summer storm at age 14 and soon began to exhibit unusual powers. Parts of her body gave off sparks. Clothing and objects flew about her house.
If she tried to open an umbrella, according to accounts in The Chronicle, it immediately would turn itself inside out and fly about the room.
Then there was her strength.
Though Lulu was not all that large, she could push around men twice her size. To demonstrate what some newspapers began to call her “animal magnetism,” she would mount a stage and ask any man in the crowd to try to take a cane from her hands.
Soon, Lulu would be leading the larger males around as they tried desperately to jerk it free. Among those flummoxed by her maidenly muscles was former Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon, then a U.S. senator.
She was a sensation. She performed across Georgia, putting on shows in Atlanta, Athens, Augusta and Savannah.
No one could explain Lulu.
Even she couldn’t explain it. She was polite (although they say she giggled a lot when twirling men around a stage), personable and submitted to almost every scientific examination.
And there were a lot of them. Not only did the staffs of MCG and Mercer University examine her closely, but so did others, including Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; geologist John Wesley Powell; and even a 10-year-old Winston Churchill, who caught her show in New York.
Atlanta Constitution editor Henry Grady was enthralled with her, and his paper began to cover her exploits. She went to New York and New England and even California.
She performed for members of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Her parents went with her, as did the family business manager, Paul Atkinson. Her travels earned the equivalent of a million dollars in modern money.
Then, rather abruptly, she quit touring. Her father tried to talk her out of it, but Lulu seemed tired of the attention. She had not, however, grown tired of Atkinson, the manager. They married, moved to his hometown of Madison, Ga., and lived happily ever after.
Lulu had children (although none publicly professed electrical powers) and earned a reputation for charity, which remained with her until her death in 1950.
In old age, she told people her powers were nothing special, simply the proper use of leverage. Some believed her.
But some thought she just wanted people to think she was normal.