2013.05.01 Time to celebrate Mike, the Headless Chicken

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

A friend of mine once told me a story that still haunts her 40 years after the event. When she was four or five years old, she and her mother went to visit someone who lived in the country. That person also happened to be raising a number of chickens.

The chickens tended to congregate around the front porch of the house and  one of them, a particularly ill-mannered chicken, was famous for chasing anyone who got too close. Since my friend was quite young at the time, she asked her mother to carry her so that the chicken couldn’t get to her. Her mother said just to stay far away and the chicken wouldn’t bother them.

That strategy failed miserably. They had barely gotten out of the car when the chicken jumped off the porch and charged at them. The owner came to their rescue, grabbed the chicken and said he was going to end the problem once and for all. He took the chicken out behind the house where he apparently attempted to speed it along the way to chicken heaven.

Imagine my friend’s horror when suddenly, the now-headless chicken came running toward her and her mother, no doubt with revenge on its mind. No, let me rephrase that. The chicken no longer had a head so there couldn’t be anything on it’s mind. No matter. It was definitely time for my friend and her mother to go, and my friend never went back to the house. Therefore, she doesn’t know what eventually happened to the chicken. Another headless chicken, however, is still famous more than 65 years after its death.

Known as Mike (although no one knows the source of the name), the Wyandotte rooster was born in Fruita, Colorado in April, 1945. Farmer Lloyd Olsen and his wife had Olsen’s mother-in-law over for supper on September 10 and Olsen decided to butcher Mike for their meal. Unfortunately, Olsen’s axe missed Mike’s jugular vein and left an ear and the major portion of the brain stem still attached and Mike still alive.

Apparently, this isn’t that unusual of a situation as many freshly killed chickens are able to stagger around for a bit after losing their heads before finally expiring. Mike, however, was still alive the next morning and farmer Olsen decided to care for Mike rather than finish the job.

Olsen came up with the idea of giving Mike water and grain with an eyedropper. When he was still alive a week later, Olsen took the rooster to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City for an examination.

Scientists determined that a blood clot had formed which stopped Mike from bleeding to death. The brain stem which controls most reflex actions in chickens was mostly intact. Mike’s habit of pecking for food with what was left of his neck didn’t help him any, but as long as Olsen continued to feed Mike, he had a good chance at survival. And the Olsen’s had a headless meal ticket for themselves.

Billed as “The Headless Wonder Chicken,” Mike, his new manager, and the Olsens went on a nationwide tour. With an admission fee of 25 cents, Mike earned as much as $4,500 per month (in 1945 dollars) and was insured for $10,000. Life magazine published a feature on him.

Others attempted to capitalize on Mike’s financial success by beheading and creating their own headless chickens, but none of the prospective imitators lived for more than a few days. Mike, on the other hand, thanks to Olsen’s patience in feeding and watering him, grew from two and a half pounds at the time of his beheading to nearly eight pounds over an 18-month period.

Unfortunately, in March, 1947, Mike and the Olsens were on tour in Arizona when Mike began to choke in the middle of the night. Lloyd Olsen couldn’t find the eyedropper he used to clear Mike’s esophagus and the rooster passed away.

Starting in 1999, Mike’s hometown of Fruita began holding the “Mike the Headless Chicken Festival” the third weekend of May. This year’s event will be the 15th annual celebration. Scheduled happenings include a “5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race,” a rousing “Pin the Head on the Chicken” competition, a “Chicken Cluck-Off,” and “Chicken Bingo.”  What, no Chicken Nugget cook-off? 

There’s hardly enough time to make arrangements to attend this year’s event, but I’ve got a year to plan for the 2014 festival. I wonder if my friend would like to go? I can’t wait to ask her.

 

  • Front.splash
    Water Fun—Carter Seitz and Colson Walter take a fast trip along a plastic sliding strip while water from a sprinkler provides the lubrication. The boys took a break from tie-dyeing last week at Morenci’s Summer Recreation Program to cool off in the water.
  • Front.starting
    BIKE-A-THON—Children in Morenci’s Summer Recreation Program brought their bikes last Tuesday to participate in a bike-a-thon. Riders await the start of the event at the elementary school before being led on a course through town by organizer Leonie Leahy.
  • Front.pokemon
    LATEST CRAZE—David Cortes (left) and Ty Kruse, along with Jerred Heselschwerdt (standing), consult their smartphones while engaging in the game of Pokémon Go. The virtual scavenger hunt comes to life when players are in the vicinity of gyms, such as Stair District Library, and PokéStops such as the fire station across the street. The boys had spent time Monday morning searching for Pokémon at Wakefield Park.
  • Front.drum
    on your mark, get set, drum!—Drew Joughin (black shirt), Maddox Joughin and Kaleea Braun took the front row last week when Angela Rettle and assistants led the Stair District Library Summer Reading Program kids in a session of cardio drumming. The sports and healthy living theme continued yesterday with a Mini Jamboree at Lake Hudson State Park arranged by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Next week’s program features the Flying Aces Frisbee show.
  • Girls.on.ride
    NADIYA YORK and Aniston Valentine take a spin on the Casino, one of the rides offered at Wakefield Park during Morenci’s Town and Country Festival. This year’s festival remained dry but with plenty of heat during the three-day run. Additional photographs are inside this week’s Observer.
  • Front.softball
    Angela Davis (2) and teammate Allison VanBrandt break into a jig after Morenci's softball team won its third consecutive regional title.
  • Front.art.park
    ART PARK—A design created by Poggemeyer Design Group shows a “pocket art park” in the green space south of the State Line Observer building. The proposal includes a 12-foot sculpture based on a design created by Morenci sixth grade student Klara Wesley through a school and library collaboration. A wooden band shell is located at the back of the lot. The Observer wall would be covered with a synthetic stucco material. City council members are considering ways to fund the estimated $125,000 project and perhaps tackling construction one step at a time.
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016