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"Miracle Mike," headless chicken, inspires unusual festival in Colorado

May 15, 2009 |  5:02 pm

A Fruita, Colorado statue in Mike's honor How do best remember a sixty-years-dead famous fowl? If you're the tiny town of Fruita, Colorado, you host a festival in his honor. But Mike, he for whom the "Mike the Headless Chicken Festival" was named, was not any ordinary rooster. You guessed it: He was headless.

In September 1945, farmer Lloyd Olson, who with his wife Clara raised Wyandotte chickens, cut off Mike's head.  Then, according to widespread reports (which were even corroborated by scientists at the University of Utah), he continued to live for an additional eighteen months. (His exact date of death was never recorded by Olson, but it's estimated by reports that he died around March 1947.)

Miracle Mike, as the rooster came to be called, was kept alive through hand-feedings of ground grain and water dripped down his esophagus with an eye dropper. The University of Utah scientists who examined him believed Mike had survived the beheading because his brain stem remained attached to his spinal cord, and he still had a functional throat and windpipe. Some Fruita residents have even recalled in interviews that Mike continued to try to preen himself and peck in the dirt, apparently forgetting his own headlessness.

After garnering a great deal of press (and even completing a brief stint as a traveling sideshow exhibit), Mike was gradually forgetten by the public. That is, until the town of Fruita realized the story had the potential to put it on the map as a tourist attraction. Fruita revived the tale of Mike and began hosting the annual festival, now in its 12th year.  (More info and photo of Mike -- less gruesome than we would have expected, but we'll still give you the option not to see it -- after the jump.)

This year's festival runs today and Saturday and includes a "Mike the Headless Chicken" cake, live music, a pancake breakfast, a car show, a 5K run, lawn mower races, a Peep-eating contest, and a less-than-respectful-in-our-opinion chicken wing-eating contest. (This year's theme: disco.)

The best answer to why Mike's story has remained so interesting to so many comes from Fruita's Parks and Recreation director, Ture Nycum, who told The Durango Herald, "It just seems like it's that little slice of Americana that people appreciate." 

Mike the headless chicken

--Kenan Frager

Top photo: A sculpture of Mike stands along the main street in Fruita, Colo. 

Credit: David Zalubowski / Associated Press

Bottom photo: Mike in an undated photo

Credit: Associated Press

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