It will forever be known as one of the luckiest breaks in poultry history – the day a propitious hatchet job left “Miracle Mike” (aka Mike the Headless Chicken) in a one-in-a-million state that allowed him to live for over a year without a head.
The unusual event started routinely enough. On September 10, 1945, Mrs. Clara Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, sent her husband Lloyd Olsen to the chicken pen on a routine mission to bring back a chicken for the evening’s meal. Clara’s mother was coming over for dinner and Lloyd wanted to make the evening special for his mother-in-law. And what a memorial evening it turned out to be…
Mike the Headless Chicken is created. It’s alive!
Lloyd chose a five-and-a-half-month-old plump Wyandotte cockerel as his prey. Knowing that his mother-in-law savored the neck portions, he drew back the axe and took an especially careful aim. After the deed was done, the chicken began to stagger around the yard as freshly beheaded chickens sometimes do. But this one was different. The chicken paused, attempted to preen his feathers, peck for food, and crow.
The next morning, Lloyd found Mike sleeping with his head under his wing. Recognizing this was indeed a highly unusual chicken, Lloyd decided to attempt “feeding” Mike with an eyedropper by dispensing crushed up grain and water down the chicken’s neck. After it became obvious that Mike the Headless Chicken was something special, Lloyd drove 250 miles to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to see what was up with this particularly tough foul.
How Mike the Headless Chicken continued to live without a head
Scientists at the university determined that Lloyd’s careful aim and a bit of luck had spared Mike’s life, despite the absence of a head. The axe blade had missed critical veins and a fortunate blood clot had kept Mike from bleeding to death. In addition, Lloyd’s attempt to retain as much of the neck as possible had inadvertently left part of Mike’s brain stem intact – the section of the brain that controls breathing, heart rate, and reflex actions. Indeed, Mike was able to remain quite healthy for 18 months afterward. Thanks to Lloyd’s botched handiwork, Mike was able to hop around the yard and climb to sit on his perch. He continued to attempt to preen his feathers and crow (which as expected, resulted in a gurgling sound) and it was said that he spent much of his time walking around trying to peck for food.
Mike the Headless Chicken grows old – and famous
Over the course of the next 1 ½ years, Mike grew from 2 ½ lbs. to nearly 8 lbs. In an interview, Lloyd told reporters that Mike was a “robust chicken – a fine specimen of a chicken – except for not having a head.”
Mike the Headless Chicken took on a manager (who immediately secured Mike with a $10,000 insurance policy) and with Lloyd in tow, set out on a national tour through several large U.S. cities including New York City, Atlantic City, Los Angeles, and San Diego where eager sideshow patrols paid 25 cents to see Mike, the “Wonder Chicken”.
Mike’s popularity spread throughout the country, and he was even photographed for dozens of magazines including Life and Time magazines. During the height of his popularity, Mike was earning $4,500 per month, a princely sum of money for 1945.
Mike the Headless Chicken’s luck runs out
In March 1947, the touring sideshow crew stopped at a motel in Phoenix for a one-night layover. During the middle of the night, Mike began choking. The Olsen’s had unfortunately left their feeding and cleaning syringes at the previous sideshow and were unable to clean out the passageway in time. Mike choked to death in the Arizona desert.
After Mike’s death, many others attempted to duplicate the feat, but no other chicken managed to live more than a day or two, leaving Mike with the world’s record for the longest-living headless chicken.
Image CreditsMike the Chicken outside the chicken coop via Life Magazine by Bob Landry with usage type - Public Domain
Mike the Chicken and his chicken head via Life Magazine by Bob Landry with usage type - Public Domain
Feeding Mike the Chicken through his throat via The Denver Post with usage type - Public Domain. Circa 1945
Mike the headless Chicken (with his decapitated head) via Life Magazine by Bob Landry with usage type - Public Domain
Mike the Headless Chicken in the chicken yard via Life Magazine by Bob Landry with usage type - Public Domain
Feeding Mike the Headless Chicken using a eye dropper via Time Magazine by Bob Landry with usage type - Public Domain. Circa 1945
Mike the Headless Chicken on display via Time Magazine by Bob Landry with usage type - Public Domain. Circa 1945