Legend goes that on Sept. 10, 1945, an almost six-month-old Wyandotte rooster was looking especially delicious to his owners, the Olsens. Lloyd Olsen swung his ax just so as to leave a “generous neck bone” in the hopes of pleasing his mother-in-law, who would be joining the family for the bird feast. But for whatever reason (perhaps the water in Fruita is extra-fortified?), the chicken shrugged off the assault and “returned to his job of being a chicken,” albeit a bit shorter and with two fewer eyes for navigating the barnyard.
Besides officially ruining dinner that evening, “Mike” persevered to live for another 18 months, growing from a paltry 2.5 pounds to a plump eight. After about a week of feeding Mike grain and water with an eyedropper, Lloyd Olsen drove him to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to be scrutinized by some skeptical scientists, who determined that the ax blade “had missed the jugular vein and a clot had prevented Mike from bleeding to death. Although most of his head was in a jar, most of his brain stem and one ear was left on his body. Since most of a chicken’s reflex actions are controlled by the brain stem, Mike was able to remain quite healthy.”
Mike went on to achieve fowl fame, appearing in sideshows from New York to Los Angeles and features in Life and Time magazines, not to mention an obligatory Guinness World Record (you can watch a video about his life here). Today, the “Headless Wonder Chicken” is celebrated with an annual festival each third week in May (that’s this Friday and Saturday!). Hightail it to Fruita for all the trappings of a kitschy small-town festival you could ask for, from a car show and eating contests (of, no doubt, a few of Mike’s less-fortunate relatives) to a chicken dance contest and the 5K “Run Like a Headless Chicken” race.
Photo: A sculpture tribute to Mike on Fruita’s Main Street, by Andy Orr
- Nat Geo Expeditions