Lycanthropes or werewolves have been the stuff of legend for centuries. Those legends have led to decades of iconic Hollywood howlers, from 1941’s classic “The Wolf Man,” to Michael Jackson’s award-winning Thriller video.
The idea that people can change into something horrific due to the influence of the moon is at the roots of words like “lunacy” and “lunatic.” So, could it be possible that some form of lycanthropy actually exists?
That seems to be the case of a strange young woman named Emily Isabella Burt. The tale comes from Georgia during the 1840s. Isabella was one of three daughters but she looked nothing like her siblings. She was described as possessing, thick shaggy hair and eyebrows, small dark eyes, and–her most peculiar feature–teeth so pointed they almost looked as if they had been filed that way.
Concerned about her appearance – particularly of her fang-like teeth, Isabella’s mother once took her to a dentist to ask if anything could be done about them. His response was quite sinister in retrospect, “Her teeth are perfectly healthy. After all, aren’t we humans basically carnivores?”
As time went by, Isabella grew restless and unable to sleep at night. As the story goes, plagued by chronic insomnia, she took to wandering the woods and countryside alone through all hours of the night, only returning to the family home just before dawn.
Sometime soon after Isabella took to her nightly wonderings, one of her sisters fell for a man who Isabella and the rest of her kin did not like. The would-be suitor’s family had a farm not far from the Burt’s home. The farming family kept a number of sheep, and one morning Sarah’s beau stopped by the Burt house with news that several of their sheep had been attacked by a creature that left wounds on them but did not kill them.
The shepherd had heard nothing. While Sarah and Mrs. Burt expressed alarm and wonderment, Isabella asked if the creature might have been a wolf. Wolves were, by that time, all but extinct in the eastern United States, so he found the question strange.
Each time the suitor came to visit thereafter, he brought news of more attacks by the strange creature. It was not long after that when the townsfolks starting whispering the word “werewolf” to describe the nightly livestock attacks.
Things came to a head one night when the creature was spotted in the Burts’ own sheep pasture.
The neighbors were out that night, keeping watch for the wolf. One of them shot it with silver bullets — that they had been instructed by a local “voodoo man” to make — taking off its left front paw.
The next morning, Isabella Burt was laid up with a ghastly injury; her left hand had been taken off at the wrist by a gunshot. The story the Burts gave out was that in the excitement of the night before, she had somehow gotten in the midst of all the shooting and had been accidentally wounded.
When Isabella was well enough to travel, her mother sent her to France, ostensibly to visit relatives. While she was away, the attacks on sheep and cattle ceased altogether.
The legend says that during her stay in Paris, she was in fact treated by a doctor who specialized in the treatment of an emotional disorder called lycanthropy.
In France, there was an outbreak of werewolf cases in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that led to hundreds of confessed werewolves being burned at the stake.
“Clinical lycanthropy” is defined as a rare psychiatric syndrome that involves a delusion that the affected person can transform into, has transformed into, or is an animal. Its name is associated with the mythical condition of lycanthropy, a supernatural affliction in which humans are said to physically shapeshift into wolves, “When the Wolfsbane blooms, and the moon is clear and bright.”
What Happened to Isabella?
It is said that after being “successfully” treated in France, that Isabella returned to Georgia. There were a few minor attacks of the same sort, but any involvement by Isabella could not be proven. She remained single all her life, and when she died–in 1911 –she was said to have been buried in holy ground, with the rest of her family.
Upon her gravestone, which you can visit in Talbot County, GA it reads, “Thy form alone is all, thank God, That to the grave is given; For ise know thy soul the better part, Is safe, yes safe, is heaven.”
Sharp-eyed readers may recall that the name of the original Wolf Man, played by Lon Chaney in the film of the same name was “Larry Talbot.”
Stories of the Georgia Werewolf persist, and it is said that on certain nights her sad spirit can be heard roaming the Georgia hills, howling mournfully at the moon.
Do you think Emily Isabella Burt was a real-life werewolf? Or is there another explanation for the long-standing legend of the Georgia lycanthrope?