Once upon a time, there was a chicken named Mike. He lived his little chicken life happily in Fruita, Colorado until the age of 5 months. And then something happened. He transcended to a higher plane of existence: “Miracle Mike” became the Chicken That Lived, also known as Mike the Headless Chicken.
In September of 1945, a Fruita resident named Lloyd Olsen was hoping to impress his mother-in-law with a fresh chicken dinner. Lloyd walked into his yard and selected an unlucky fowl for the meal. After looking over his flock, Lloyd picked Mike, a Wyandotte chicken that was 5 and a half months old.
Taking Mike to the chopping block, Lloyd raised his axe high and brought it down on the chicken’s neck, a swift and painless death…or so he thought.
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Fortunately for Mike, but unfortunately for Lloyd’s hungry mother-in-law, the axe swing wasn’t quite direct enough for a clean kill. Mike didn’t go down. Most of his head was gone, but the blade missed his jugular (artery or vein?) and his brain stem, along with a single ear. Injured but not defeated, Mike was still able to move about, albeit quite clumsily. Mike even continued to try to search for food and groom himself despite his lack of beak.
Suddenly struck with compassion, Lloyd admired the bird’s tenacity and opted to take care of the bird instead of delivering a final blow.
Taking care of a bird with no face isn’t exactly easy. After all, how can it even eat? Though this was briefly an issue, Lloyd figured out that he could feed Mike a mixture of water and milk by using an eyedropper to pour the liquid down his throat. Mike could also handle with a few small grains of corn. This provided enough sustenance to keep Mike alive.
As you may have guessed, word about the Chicken That Lived” spread rapidly across the country. Lloyd quickly switched his motives from strictly caring for the bird towards financial gain. He started a career of taking “Miracle Mike” on sideshow tours, featuring his headless chicken alongside other strange and unusual things you’d probably see in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” nowadays. And seeing Mike on one of these tours wasn’t cheap. In fact, it was 25 cents, or roughly $3.50 in today’s currency. In “Miracle Mike’s” prime on the road, Lloyd was earning an estimated $4,500 per month…that’s $48,300 per month today. Simply being headless had raised Miracle Mike’s value to over $100,000 by the current standards.
Unfortunately, Miracle Mike’s fame and Lloyd’s entrepreneurial venture were both cut short 18 months after the botched beheading when Mike choked on a kernel of corn, eventually resulting in his death.
As you might expect, there were a lot of naysayers when it came to believing that a chicken could walk around for a year and a half without a head. To calm the doubters, Lloyd took Mike’s remains to the University of Utah for a post mortem analysis. It was determined that a blood clot had kept Mike from bleeding out during the initial beheading and that the presence of an intact brainstem ensured that his basic bodily functions still worked.
Mike is remembered in his hometown of Fruita, Colorado during an annual celebration called the “Mike the Headless Chicken Festival.” It’s been going on since 1999 and generally happens late in May or early in June. Family-friendly, this event has plenty of stuff going on, including chicken wing and Peep eating contests, a 5K run, and a disc golf tournament, along with a concert series.
Mike the Headless Chicken, or Miracle Mike, may be no more, but his historic role in Fruita’s past is still an important part of the culture that makes the Western Slope town such a unique destination. If you happen to be out that way, whether it’s for mountain biking, hiking, or enjoying one of the many wineries in the area, make sure you take a moment to remember Miracle Mike, the Chicken That Lived.
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*Note that while Lloyd’s treatment of Mike could be considered controversial by some, no chickens are treated cruelly during the “Mike the Headless Chicken Festival” today.
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