While watching Ultimate Animal Survival on National Geographic Wild Channel or NAT GEO WiLD, I came across the story of the headless chicken for the first time.
Here is the story…
Seventy-two years ago, a farmer beheaded a chicken in Colorado, and it refused to die. Mike, as the bird became known, survived for 18 months and became famous. But how did he live without a head for so long, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.
On 10 September 1945 Lloyd Olsen and his wife Clara were killing chickens, on their farm in Fruita, Colorado. Olsen would decapitate the birds, his wife would clean them up. But one of the 40 or 50 animals that went under Olsen’s hatchet that day didn’t behave like the rest.
“They got down to the end and had one who was still alive, up and walking around,” says the couple’s great-grandson, Troy Waters, himself a farmer in Fruita. The chicken kicked and ran, and didn’t stop.
It was placed in an old apple box on the farm’s screened porch for the night, and when Lloyd Olsen woke the following morning, he stepped outside to see what had happened. “The damn thing was still alive,” says Waters.
“It’s part of our weird family history,” says Christa Waters, his wife.
Waters heard the story as a boy, when his bedridden great-grandfather came to live in his parents’ house. The two had adjacent bedrooms, and the old man, often sleepless, would talk for hours.
“He took the chicken carcasses to town to sell them at the meat market,” Waters says.
“He took this rooster with him – and back then he was still using the horse and wagon quite a bit. He threw it in the wagon, took the chicken in with him and started betting people beer or something that he had a live headless chicken.”
Word spread around Fruita about the miraculous headless bird. The local paper dispatched a reporter to interview Olsen, and two weeks later a sideshow promoter called Hope Wade travelled nearly 300 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah. He had a simple proposition: take the chicken on to the sideshow circuit – they could make some money.
“Back then in the 1940s, they had a small farm and were struggling,” Waters says. “Lloyd said, ‘What the hell – we might as well.'”
First they visited Salt Lake City and the University of Utah, where the chicken was put through a battery of tests. Rumour has it that university scientists surgically removed the heads of many other chickens to see whether any would live.
It was here that Life Magazine came to marvel over the story of Miracle Mike the Headless Chicken – as he had by now been branded by Hope Wade. Then Lloyd, Clara and Mike set off on a tour of the US.