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October 15, 2019

Miracle Mike: The Story of the Chicken That Lived for 18 Months Without a Head

Mike the Headless Chicken (April 20, 1945 – March 17, 1947), also known as Miracle Mike, was a Wyandotte chicken that lived for 18 months after his head had been cut off. Although the story was thought by many to be a hoax, the bird’s owner took him to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to establish the facts.

Mike the headless chicken, October 1945. According to some accounts, the day the ax fell, Mike slept with his head under his wing. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

On September 10, 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, was planning to eat supper with his mother-in-law and was sent out to the yard by his wife to bring back a chicken. Olsen chose a five-and-a-half-month-old Wyandotte chicken named Mike. The axe removed the bulk of the head, but missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact.

Lloyd Olsen and his wife, Clara, at their farm in Fruita. Their name is famous in town, which hosts a festival for the Olsens' headless chicken that lived in 1945. (Photo courtesy Troy Waters)

Due to Olsen’s failed attempt to behead Mike, the chicken was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily. He attempted to preen, peck for food, and crow, though with limited success; his “crowing” consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat. When Mike did not die, Olsen instead decided to care for the bird. He fed it a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper, and gave it small grains of corn and worms.

Once his fame had been established, Mike began a career of touring sideshows in the company of such other creatures as a two-headed baby. He was also photographed for dozens of magazines and papers, and was featured in Time and Life magazines. Mike was put on display to the public for an admission cost of 25 cents. At the height of his popularity, the chicken's owner earned US$4,500 per month ($50,500 today); Mike was valued at $10,000.

Mike the headless chicken “dances” in 1945. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Mike the headless chicken stands atop a lawn mower in Fruita, Colorado, 1945. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Mike the headless chicken in his Colorado barnyard, with fellow chickens, 1945. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Mike the headless chicken rests in the grass in 1945. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

In March 1947, at a motel in Phoenix on a stopover while traveling back from tour, Mike started choking in the middle of the night. He had managed to get a kernel of corn in his throat. The Olsens had inadvertently left their feeding and cleaning syringes at the sideshow the day before, and so were unable to save Mike. Olsen claimed that he had sold the bird off, resulting in stories of Mike still touring the country as late as 1949. Other sources say that the chicken's severed trachea could not properly take in enough air to be able to breathe, and it therefore choked to death in the motel.

It was determined that the axe had missed the jugular vein and a clot had prevented Mike from bleeding to death. Although most of his head was severed, most of his brain stem and one ear were left on his body. Since basic functions (breathing, heart rate, etc.) as well as most of a chicken’s reflex actions are controlled by the brain stem, Mike was able to remain quite healthy. This is a good example of central motor generators enabling basic homeostatic functions to be carried out in the absence of higher brain centers.

A picture of the suitcase containing the tools for feeding Mike the headless chicken, including an eye dropper that was used to provide sustenance through the hole atop his torso where his head used to be. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Mike the headless chicken is fed through an eye dropper, directly into his esophagus, in 1945. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Hope Wade, a promoter who took Mike on the road and charged money for folks to take a look, holds Mike the headless chicken, Fruita, Colorado, 1945. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Promoter Hope Wade holds Mike the headless chicken's formerly useful noggin, as if attempting to reintroduce the bird to its lost self, in 1945. Some reports, however, claim that the Olsons’ cat ate Mike’s head, and that another rooster’s head stood in for Mike’s during his brief brush with fame. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Mike the Headless Chicken is now an institution in Fruita, Colorado, with an annual “Mike the Headless Chicken Day”, the third weekend of May, starting in 1999. Events held include the “5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race”, egg toss, “Pin the Head on the Chicken”, the “Chicken Cluck-Off”, and “Chicken Bingo”, in which chicken droppings on a numbered grid choose the numbers.

A sculpture tribute to Mike on Fruita’s Main Street. (Photo by Andy Orr)

Mike the Headless Chicken was an inspiration for the poultry-themed comedy punk band The Radioactive Chicken Heads, serving as the subject of their 2008 song “Headless Mike”, for which a music video was filmed. The band also features a Headless Mike puppet which is frequently used in their live shows.


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