Die-Hard Chicken

The following is an article from Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader. (Image credit: Greg Williams)

Readers have been asking us to tell this story for years. It was so weird even we had a hard time swallowing it …but it's true.


On September 10, 1945, Mike the rooster was making his usual rounds in the Olsen farmyard in Fruita, Colorado. He paused for a moment to join the other Wyandotte chickens as they hunted and pecked for grain outside the chicken coop. Mike didn't notice the dark shadow that fell across his path. It was Lloyd Olsen.

Clara Olsen had sent her husband out to the chicken coop on a mission: catch the rooster and prepare him for dinner. Lloyd Olsen grabbed Mike and put the rooster on the chopping block. Remembering that his mother-in-law (who was coming for dinner) loved chicken necks, Lloyd took special care to position his ax on Mike's neck so a generous portion of neck would remain. He gave that rooster one strong whack and cut off his head.

Mike the now-headless rooster ran around in circles, flapping his wings. At this point, most chickens would have dropped dead. Instead, Mike raced back to the coop, where he joined the rest of the chickens as they hunted and pecked for food.

Lloyd Olsen was flabbergasted. He kept expecting the rooster to keel over. It never happened. The next morning he checked again and found the feathered fellow -minus his head- asleep in the henhouse with the hens.

Note: Continue reading for actual pictures of Mike.


Lloyd decided that if Mike was so determined to live, even without a head, he would figure out a way to give him food and water, so Lloyd used an eyedropper to drip food and water into Mike's gullet.

When Mike had managed to live an entire week, Lloyd and Clara took their headless wonder to scientists at the University of Utah to determine how it was possible for the bird to stay alive without a head. The scientists determined that the ax had missed the jugular vein, and a clot had kept Mike from bleeding to death. Although his head was gone, his brainstem and one ear were left on his body.  Since a chicken's reflex actions are controlled by the brain stem, Mike's body was able to keep on ticking.


(Image credit: miketheheadlesschicken.org)

Sensing that Mike had the possibility of becoming a real cash cow (or chicken), the Olsens hired a manager and took him on a national tour. Audiences in New York, Los Angeles, Atlantic City, and San Diego paid a quarter each to see "Miracle Mike." Time and Life magazines ran feature articles on the amazing fowl. Mike even made it into The Guinness Book of World Records. This "Wonder Chicken" was so valuable, he was insured for $10,000.

For 18 happy months, Mike was a celebrity. Then one night in a motel in Arizona, Mike the Headless Chicken started choking on some food. Lloyd tried to save him, but he couldn't find the syringe he often used to clear Mike's throat.  Moments later, Mike was dead -this time for real.

Those who remember Mike, which included many of the residents of Fruita, remembered him as a "robust chicken, and a fine specimen, except for not having a head." One recalled that Mike seemed "as happy as any other chicken."


(Image credit: Flickr user Krissi Sandvik)

Mike's been dead for over 60 years, but his spirit lives on in Fruita. In 1999 the Chamber of Commerce was looking for something more interesting than "pioneers" as the theme for Colorado Heritage Week, when someone suggested Mike. Now, every third weekend in May, folks in this town of 6,500 gather to celebrate the remarkable rooster at the "Mike the Headless Chicken Festival."

The two-day-long celebration features the 5K Run Like a Chicken race, egg tosses, Pin the Head on the Chicken, a Cluck Off, Rubber Chicken Juggling, and the Chicken Dance. Chicken Bingo is played with chicken droppings on a grid and there is a Famous Fowl Pet Parade, for which owners dress their dogs, cats, and horses like chickens. Of course, great quantities of chicken -fried or barbecued-  are enjoyed by all.

(Image credit: Flickr user Krissi Sandvik)

In 2000 Mike was memorialized in a statue made out of rakes, axes, and farm implements by artist Lyle Nichols, who said, "I made him proud-looking and cocky." And he gave the Chamber a discount on the sculpture …because it didn't have a head.


The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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