Back in 1927, a man named William Edgar “Ed” Smith applied for admission to Georgia Tech. He soon received a letter in the mail telling him that he had been accepted into the school, and that he would be receiving an enrollment form in the mail. A few weeks passed, and Smith got that form in the mail. Actually, he received two of them.
He dutifully filled out the first with his own information, then pondered what to do with the second. He finally decided to pull a prank on his Academy of Richmond County principal, a UGA alum and staunch Bulldog supporter named George P. Butler, by enrolling him in the school. But Smith lost his nerve by the time he’d written “George P. B” on the form, so instead of completing “Butler”, he wrote “Burdell”, his best friend’s mother’s maiden name.
The prank would have been lame had it ended there. But it didn’t.
Once Smith got to Tech, he enrolled Burdell in all the same classes as himself. For the next three years, Smith did all his work twice, once under his own name, and again under Burdell’s name. Every homework assignment, every class project, every report, every paper, every quiz, every exam… everything. He would simply alter his handwriting and some of his answers and turn it in again under Burdell’s name. Smith was so dedicated to the prank that in 1930 “George P. Burdell” was awarded a bachelor of science degree from the school.
With the awarding of the degree, news of Smith’s prank spread to the student body at large. School administrators were, at first, understandably horrified to find out that they’d been punked. However, Tech’s administration long had a “boys will be boys” attitude towards pranks, and eventually they decided to make Burdell an official alumnus of the school. In 1930, Burdell was also made a member of the ANAK Society, Georgia Tech’s oldest and most prestigious secret society. Other students took up the cause and kept Burdell enrolled after Smith left. Burdell soon received his master’s degree, and has been enrolled in the school continuously ever since.
There was, however, a scary moment in the late 1960s. Tech administrators developed a new computerized class scheduling system, partly because it was the wave of the future, but also because they had grown weary of the joke. They were sure the new system would prevent Burdell from showing up on class rolls. Students, however, hacked the system, and in 1969 Burdell was signed up for every class the school offered that semester, a whopping 3,000 hours of class time! The school upgraded the system in 1975 and 1986 to prevent similar pranks, but in both cases, Burdell was signed up for every class that semester as well!
But the legend of George P. Burdell extends far beyond the Tech campus. The first known off-campus prank involved a student who was turned down for a spot in a fraternity; the scorned student ordered a ton of manure in Burdell’s name and had it dumped on the fraternity’s lawn. Students traveling to away games often had Burdell paged over the host school’s PA system. Bored Tech students waiting for flights at airports or drinks in restaurants and hotels had him paged. Burdell’s name was attached to countless unwanted magazine subscriptions, mail-order merchandise and catalogs.
George P. Burdell was listed as a member of Mad magazine’s board of directors from 1969 until 1981. He was an alternate delegate for the state of Georgia at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. Burdell loves music, as he is a staff member at WREK, the school’s radio station, played baritone on the 1995 album Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection and sang on the 2006 gospel album There Is a Place. He had 57% of the online votes for Time magazine’s 2001 “Man of the Year” contest, and was listed as a production assistant at the South Park studios website. Food giant Kraft used Burdell’s signature on its “public checks” (those sent to customers for refunds, rebates, etc.)
Burdell has even seen time in combat! During World War II, Burdell’s name appeared on the flight crew list of a B-17 bomber. Burdell flew a few missions in North Africa and twelve missions over Germany with the 8th Air Force before a new officer (and Tech graduate) took command of the unit. Burdell’s name mysteriously disappeared after that, but his name lived on in the Navy, where he “served” on several vessels, including aircraft carriers and submarines.
It seems that ol’ George has been lucky in love, too. Students at nearby women’s school Agnes Scott College created a fictitious student of their own, Ramona Cartwright, and the two announced their engagement in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1958 in a prank by Scott’s senior class. Their 50th anniversary was even noted in a Prairie Home Companion podcast back in 2006. The couple have a son, George P. Burdell, Jr, who is also active in campus life at Georgia Tech, proctoring several classes every quarter.