Mike the headless chicken
Some know the story of Mike, the headless chicken, who lived 18 months after his head was chopped off. His story was first documented in Life magazine’s October 22, 1945 issue and in Time magazine. The true story started on September 10, 1945, and it is in “The Guinness Book of World Records” and in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.” The town of Fruita celebrates his life and courage as “the headless chicken that refused to die.” Starting in May 1999, they’ve made an annual fun festival centered on Mike in which the whole town participates. As a result, every May many out-of-town visitors support the local economy with the dollars spent at local motels, restaurants, and gift shops.
Every year the festival continues to grow. The theme this year was “the ’80s” with a band playing ’80s tunes, a big hair contest, a Lions pancake breakfast, Mike 5K run/walk race, a car show, vendor booths offering chicken “things,” art, lawn mower races, a Chicken Dance contest, local bands playing on the bandstand, a climbing wall, pony rides, a kiddies train, wine tasting, a beer garden and carnival rides.
According to the locals, in 1945 a Wyandotte rooster was owned by local farmer, Lloyd and his wife, Clara Olsen. Her mother was coming to dinner and since her favorite part of the chicken was the neck, Lloyd tried to cut it as big as possible for his mother-in-law. He took the axe, grabbed the chicken and, as farmers do, attempted to decapitate the chicken. The axe blade missed the chicken’s jugular vein and a clot formed sealing it, rendering the chicken headless but alert. His brainstem and an ear were left, so he was able to get up and run around “like a chicken with his head cut off.”
The couple drove to Salt Lake City to the University of Utah to have some scientists observe and document the headless chicken and determine what he could still do without a complete head. They advised the Olsens to try and feed him water and grain with an eye dropper, and use a syringe, when needed to clear out any mucus. So the Wyandotte rooster lived for 18 months while his owners transported him around the country, traveling with carnivals and sideshows. Crowds lined up to see him, each paying a quarter for a look at Mike, the headless chicken who strutted around enjoying himself and the crowds.
The rooster grew to weigh 8-pounds when one night in an Arizona motel, he started to choke. The Olsens had inadvertently left the eye dropper and syringe at their last stop so, unable to revive him, he died, and their adventure and their carnival career were over.
But Mike lives on in the 4-foot high, 2-feet wide, 300-pound replica. He’s wearing cowboy spurs, standing up on a pedestal on the corner of Mulberry and Aspen Streets in downtown Fruita, Colo. Created by renowned Grand Junction artist Lyle Nichols, the artwork consists of welded metal parts, sickle blades, rakes, nuts, bolts and farm machinery scraps. He captured the essence of a barnyard rooster.
Even without a head, the welded sculpture of Mike looks like he is proud and strutting. They say he represents courage. It has been reported that the commissioned artist added spurs for just that reason.
So, if you are in Fruita, Colo., take along your camera. The sculpture is permanent and is there year-round. Have someone take your picture with Mike, the Headless Chicken. The photograph will be good for a laugh anytime you feel the need for one. Maybe on some dreary, cold, winter’s night you might need a laugh, and you’ll have the picture of Mike to warm you up and make you smile!
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