The story begins on the Olsen’s farm in Fruita, Colorado. Lloyd and his wife Clara Olsen were killing chickens back in September of 1945. Lloyd’s job was to decapitate the chickens while his wife was tasked with cleaning them. Of all the chickens that Lloyd beheaded, one had a weird reaction to its head being severed. It started running, clumsily so, but it did.
So the Olsens put him in an apple box overnight. When they woke the next morning, they were shocked at what they discovered. The chicken stood there, headless but undead. Mike was alive!
Well, that gave Lloyd an idea. He decided that he could make some money. So whenever he went to town to sell the chicken carcasses, he would carry the headless chicken with him. He would bet people beer on the condition that he would show them a live headless chicken. As it turned out, Lloyd got a decent amount of pints back in the day thanks to Mike.
Soon they were asked to take him on tours, where they earned more money. But as their great-great grandson explained, they were not filthy rich. Just got enough to get by and set up a more advanced farm. The Olsens were doing okay for themselves.
Once the farm was setup, they did a few sideshows on the road with different types of creatures and even a two-headed baby. People back then paid to see such stuff. We have internet. Lloyd also took him to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to establish that the stories were not a hoax. Mike also featured in Time and Life magazines (how fitting was that?).
Mike was fed using a dropper. And the couple made sure that they cleared his trachea from time to time as well. They used a syringe to take out mucus and anything that would prevent Mike from breathing.
However, during one of their travels, they were in a motel in Phoenix, Arizona, and had forgotten the syringe at the sideshow. Late in the night, they heard Mike making a choking noise. With none of the equipment on them, their attempts proved futile. 18 months of surviving without his head, Mike finally breathed his last in that motel. It was in March, 1947.
Llyod Olsen did not want people to find out that Mike died in his care. He told people that he sold Mike to some guy at a sideshow. In fact, people even believed for a long while that Mike was alive and touring around the States.
Lloyd never told anyone what he did with Mike’s dead body. It probably became food for some animals. However, a chicken that was raised to be killed for dinner survived for 18 long months. That’s quite something. But how did Mike make it through so much without a head?
Generally when a chicken is beheaded, its brain is disconnected from the body. It flaps around for a bit because there is residual oxygen left in its spinal cord. According to Dr Tom Smulders of Newcastle University, there are rare cases where neurons accidentally activate the motor programme that allows running. But to that he also said, “The chicken will indeed run for a little while. But not for 18 months, more like 15 minutes or so.”
When it comes to chickens, there is a very small part of the brain which is actually in front portion of the head. Most of it is in the back, behind the eyes. And in Mike’s case, although he lost is eyes, face, beak and an ear, more than 80% of his brain (by mass) was intact. Since his heart rate, digestion and breathing were also functioning he remained quite healthy. Moreover, an early clot stopped him from bleeding further.
From their neighbour, who would buy countless number of chickens, to other farmers around the country, everyone tried to replicate Lloyd’s hatchet swing that created Miracle Mike. But none succeeded.
Till this day, almost 72 years later, Mike remains unique. The town of Fruita celebrates a Mike the Headless Chicken Day every 3rd weekend of May and there is also a statue of him in town. What a legend! Destined for the fryer, he lived for 18 months and that too without a head. Mike was a miracle!
We end with a poem on the miracle himself.