In 1945 in Fruita, Colorado, a farmer's wife decapitated a chicken. The chicken lived. This is his story.
Bob LandryReaders of the Oct. 22, 1945, issue of LIFE magazine were greeted with a headline that, one imagines, stopped most of them cold: "Beheaded Chicken Lives Normally After Freak Decapitation by Ax." Seriously. Who is not going to read on after that?Bob LandryAs it turns out, "a rangy Wyandotte rooster named Mike ... lost his head in the usual rooster way," LIFE reported. "Mrs. L.A. Olsen, wife of a farmer in Fruita, Colo., decided to have chicken for dinner. Mrs. Olsen took Mike to the chopping block and axed off his head. Thereupon Mike got up and soon began to strut around."
Bob LandryWhat Clara Olsen's ax had done, LIFE bluntly noted, "was to clip off most of the skull but leave intact one ear, the jugular vein and the base of the brain, which controls motor function." Miracle Mike (as he came to be known) and the Olsens were about to embark on something of an adventure.Bob Landry"Word spread around Fruita about the miraculous headless bird," BBC.com reported in 2015. "[W]eeks later a sideshow promoter called Hope Wade traveled nearly 300 miles from Salt Lake City. He had a simple proposition: take the chicken on to the sideshow circuit." (Pictured: Hope Wade holding his cash cow, or chicken, Miracle Mike.)Bob LandryPromoter Hope Wade and Mike the headless Chicken, Fruita, Colo., 1945. The best quote in the BBC article on Mike's legacy comes from Dr. Tom Smulders, a chicken expert at the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution at Newcastle University: "You'd be amazed how little brain there is in the front of the head of a chicken." With all due respect, Dr. Smulders ― we wouldn't.
Bob LandryMike stayed alive, sans noggin, when he was fed water and liquefied food through an eyedropper, directly into his esophagus.Bob LandryEighteen months after losing his head, Mike died in a Phoenix, Arizona, motel room in 1947. The Olsen's great-grandson, Troy Waters (himself a farmer in Fruita) told the BBC that his great-grandfather admitted late in life that Mike choked to death one night after appearing in a sideshow, when Lloyd and Clara misplaced the syringe they used to clean his throat.Bob LandryA month after his beheading, Mike poses with what might, or might not be, his own severed skull. LIFE reported that other chickens in the Olsen's barnyard did not appear to avoid or scorn their open-necked companion, but the magazine also soberly noted that Mike had "shown no tendencies to mate."