Lulu’s autobiograpy is Open Source, and can be read on Archive.org: https://archive.org/details/LuluHursttheGeorgiaWonderWritesHerAutobiography
THE STRANGE POWERS OF LULU HURST
Lulu Hurst (sometimes Lula) was born in 1869 near Cedartown in Polk County, Georgia. After a few years in town, the Hurst family moved to Collard Valley into a fine old plantation home dating from the 1830s. From this peaceful setting, young Lulu would shortly embark upon a career which would amaze the nation.
On the night of September 18, 1883, a severe electrical storm swept through Collard Valley as Lulu was sleeping in a room with a young cousin. The young girl was awakened that night by strange noises reportedly emanating from her pillow.
“It was a quick, muffled popping sound,” Hurst later explained in her autobiography. Soon the same puzzling sounds could be heard in other parts of the room, as well.
In response to the other-worldly sounds, the two young girls sprang out of bed, now wide awake and frightened. The commotion quickly aroused the family, too, but no one could explain the phenomenon.
According to accounts, the normally reserved fourteen-year-old girl had been strangely endowed with what seemed to be amazing powers. She found that when she placed her hands on a chair, even strong men could not lift it.
When news of these mysterious events reached the neighbors, many visitors began appearing at and crowding the Hurst home. Some struggled to contain their fears; others gleefully hoped to expose her as a fraud.
As news of the Collard Valley phenomenon spread to Cedartown and beyond, more delegations flocked to the Hurst home. It wasn’t long before the commercial possibilities became obvious. Lulu’s parents reluctantly agreed to their daughter’s public appearance in Cedartown and later in nearby Rome. Performances reportedly brought offers of $100, and the Hursts soon found themselves in the entertainment business.
In January of 1884, Lulu appeared in Atlanta, billed as “Miss Lulu Hurst, The Electric Girl.” In her first act, several men – volunteers from the audience – would pile onto a chair. Then, Lulu would reach out, place her hand on the chair, and with a mere touch, mysteriously raise the chair – weighing as much as 500 pounds with the weight of the three men – some six inches off the floor.
Were her apparent powers a fraud, or a truly remarkable phenomenon? The act could not be dismissed simply as a feat of strength. Lulu’s stature, sex, and musculature simply were not equal to the task.
Within four months of the discovery of her powers, Lulu’s shows had been held in Cedartown, Rockmart, Rome, Atlanta, and Chattanooga. As her fame spread, she appeared in numerous other Georgia cities including Athens, Macon, Augusta, and Savannah.
The mystifying routines never failed to delight audiences. They enjoyed seeing strong men humbled and thrown around the stage by a small female. One newspaperman was inspired to dub her, “The Power Behind the Thrown.”
Lulu’s growing fame also increased the number of individuals who sought to expose what they were certain was deceit. Most people willingly conceded that her powers apparently did not flow from her muscles, but attributed them to a magnetic, electric, or spiritualistic source. Despite their efforts, however, none of her detractors were able to expose her as a fraud. In fact, Lulu’s puzzling powers could not be explained under any circumstances, not even by Lulu herself, according to her own admission.
In the days ahead, Lulu appeared in most major cities in the nation. The success of her performances was bringing the Hursts a small fortune. At one point, the youngster’s income was estimated to be as much as $80,000 to $100,000, although this amount could be an exaggeration.
When, however, her father was asked on one occasion how much his daughter had made from her performances, the patriarch would not disclose the amount, but admitted that “While Lula was lifting around editors, senators, governors, and congressmen, she certainly lifted that mortgage off of our home, too.”
Finally, in early 1885 she ceased her travels around the country and restricted her appearances to Georgia. Suddenly, in the fall of that year at the tender age of sixteen, she retired from the stage altogether. Both Sally (her mother) and Will (her father) Hurst came from deeply religious families, and felt that exhibitions of their daughter’s strange powers was generating too much interest in the occult, a conflict with their religious beliefs.
Young Lulu said she also was tired of being “looked on as some abnormal quasi-supernatural sort of being.” Lulu also said she wanted to pursue formal education – and through that might possibly find a way to explain her powers. To this end, she entered Shorter College in Rome, Georgia.
In 1887, she married her manager, Paul Atkinson and left Shorter College. The couple later moved to Madison, Georgia, where they lived out their lives in quiet seclusion while raising two sons. In 1950, Lulu Hurst Atkinson died at the age of 81. Her story, however, continues to be told and retold and the speculation lives on.
The Heritage of Polk County, Georgia: 1851-2000
Submitted by Gordon D. Sargent
Sargent’s large donation of research material is available in our research library.