Across the street from Madison Presbyterian Church (and the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center) you will see a handsome two-story frame house at 433 South Main Street. A house was on this site as early as 1819 but the bulk of the current structure dates back to the 1850s. The neo-classical wrap around porch and other exterior trim were added in the 1890s.
This was home to two of Madison’s most interesting citizens, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Atkinson. Mrs. Atkinson had been Miss Lula Hurst, once known as the “Georgia Wonder Girl,’ whose feats of mind-over-matter strength were legendary. Born in 1869 in Cedartown, Georgia, she became, as a teenage girl in the 1880s, a brief international sensation. Always chaperoned by her father, she did mysterious stunts of lifting, and one of the towns to which she brought her act was Madison.
It was a local boy with dramatic flair, Paul Atkinson, who introduced the slender titan to the audience. Sufficiently impressed, her father hired Atkinson to become his daughter’s business manager. They traveled to Atlanta and New York City, and she “packed them in” everywhere they went. On June 5, 1884, the New York Times reported, “The entire performance was a wonderful exhibition of an unaccountable power, and the immense audience was delighted and amazed.”
But she grew tired of being a traveling female curiosity and fell in love with Paul Atkinson. They married and moved to Madison to this home and became leading citizens. Lula, now the mother of two sons and a matron, seldom spoke again of her stage career. Paul and his brothers operated the family’s Madison Variety Works. But Paul’s flair for show business didn’t die as easily as Lula’s; in 1890, he bought the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama painting for $2,500, and, after exhibiting it for several years, sold it in 1893. It is currently in the campus of the Atlanta History Center.