This Legendary Chicken Ran Around With Its Head Cut Off for 18 Months

Poultry | © United Soybean Board / Flickr
Samantha Ladwig

The year 1945 marked the end of World War II, the inauguration of Chiquita Bananas, and the birth of one of Colorado’s greatest wonders: Mike the Headless Chicken.

“Running around like a chicken with its head cut off” is one of those commonly used phrases that everyone understands but few know what it actually means. When a chicken gets its head cut off, it really does run around frantic and aimless before keeling over—sort of like today’s average millennial trying to manage a career, social life, family, and drink eight glasses of water a day. But one Colorado chicken by the name of Miracle Mike challenged that comparison in 1945 when he decided to live an additional 18 months after his decapitation.

Mike wasn’t an extraordinary chicken by any means—he was a Wyandotte chicken, bred solely for his brown eggs and yellow-skinned meat. In layman’s terms, Mike was just an average chicken. Or at least that’s what farmers Clara and Lloyd Olsen in Fruita, Colorado, thought when they plucked Mike from his coop on September 10, 1945.

Accounts differ on the day’s event. Either the Olsens were killing all of their chickens, or they killed Mike specifically for Clara’s mother to eat. No matter the reason, things took an unexpected turn almost immediately when, after cutting off his head, Mike continued to spit and sputter out of his exposed neck. Apparently, when one of the Olsens swung their knife, they missed the five-month-old chicken’s jugular vein. And it didn’t stop there; the attempted beheading was so far off that one of Mike’s ears and most of his brain stem remained intact. Instead of running around as headless chickens do, Mike started to walk. He even gurgled out a few clucks and attempted to peck at the ground for food.

A grotesque and disturbing sight to most, the Olsens found another use for their newly headless chicken. Instead of backtracking and finishing the job, the Colorado farmers sought out ways to cultivate their zombie bird. They concocted a mixture of grain, water, and milk and used an eyedropper to feed Mike via his neck. Alive and well, the Olsens brought Mike to the public, and he became a historic part of the town’s legacy.

Miracle Mike rose to fame rapidly, granting feature profiles in both Time and Life magazines. Mike was undoubtedly a Colorado wonder and a business venture at that. As word spread about the headless chicken, Mike went on a nationwide tour with people paying as much as 25 cents to see him. But his fame lasted for the remainder of his headless life until one fateful night in an Arizona motel, 18 months after his beheading, when Mike chocked on a corn kernel and sadly croaked.

Unlike most chickens though, Mike built a legacy that Fruita, Colorado, continues to celebrate today. With a sculpture perched year-round, the town throws an annual Mike the Headless Chicken Festival that’s chock-full of food, music, and chicken-related activities and games. Mike’s life was short, but his impact definitely wasn’t.

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