In 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, went to his barnyard to butcher a chicken for his family’s dinner. But the chicken in question had other ideas. Olsen skillfully beheaded the fowl with a swift ax chop, and the body, like those of so many freshly killed chickens, began to stagger around. Then it took off running.
The next day, Olsen found the headless rooster, still alive and pecking. Unable to kill a bird with such a clear will to live, the farmer began using an eyedropper to feed grain and water down its esophagus. He then drove the bird 250 miles to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. There, scientists determined that Olsen’s ax blow had missed the rooster’s jugular vein, and a subsequent blood clot had kept the bird from bleeding to death. The brain stem, which controlled most of the bird’s reflexive functions, remained attached to the body. Oblivious to the fact that most of his head was missing, the rooster continued trying to peck for food, preening its feathers, and sleeping with the top of his neck under his wing.
Over the next eighteen months, Olsen continued to use an eyedropper to feed the bird, who flourished in spite of his handicap, growing from two and a half pounds to a robust eighteen pounds. Dubbed Mike, the Headless Wonder Chicken, the plucky rooster and Olsen set off on a national tour and became the subject of articles in Time and Life magazines. Unfortunately, Mike’s miraculous life came to an abrupt end in an Arizona hotel. The rooster choked, and Olsen was unable to find an eyedropper to clear his feathered friend’s throat.
Today, Mike still has his own fan club, and his dauntless spirit is celebrated annually in Fruita on the third weekend in May. “Mike’s Festival” includes a chicken recipe contest, a chicken-dance contest, and a 5K “run like a headless chicken.” Appropriately, the event’s Web site states, “Attending this fun, family event is a nobrainer.”
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from The Book of the Bizarre by Varla Ventura