Did you know only a very small portion of a chicken’s brain is in the front part of its head? Most of it is located at the back of the bird’s skull, just behind their eyes, and this is the part of the brain that controls the most important functions that regulate a chicken’s body.
If a chicken farmer is about to decapitate the head of these dinner-friendly birds, after that hatchet is swung, the bird usually dies within moments. On rare occasions, neurons are still able to shoot a command for the legs to move — so it can happen that, before finally succumbing to death, the animal will run for let’s say 15 minutes at most.
But when a five-month-old rooster, today remembered as Miracle Mike the Headless Chicken, was laid on the chopping block, ready to become someone’s dinner, the chicken, surprisingly, survived. In fact, Miracle Mike went on to live for about a year and a half! Eventually, Mike became famous and brought a little fortune to his owners.
The oddity itself occurred on September 10, 1945, to Lloyd and Clara Olsen who were farming chickens in Fruita, CO. That day, Lloyd Olsen removed the heads of dozens of chickens on his farm, while his spouse Clara was cleaning them. From the head-chopped bunch emerged Mike, unwilling to die.
The Olsens left the chicken for the night, believing that it would eventually die, but to everyone’s surprise, the bird was there the next morning too. So, they decided to give this tough rooster a second chance at living.
Two major responsibilities were shared on the family farm to keep the bird alive after its beheading day. One, to nourish Mike with a water and milk mixture placed directly into its throat. Second, clearing the throat of any mucus that accumulated. The Olsens used a dropper for the feeding and a syringe for the clearing.
The news of Miracle Mike traveled fast beyond the farm. After a story was published about him in a local newspaper, it took less than a month for Hope Wade to appear, a sideshow promoter who drove to see the Olsens and their miraculous rooster all the way from Salt Lake City, UT.
Wade saw a lucrative opportunity in the bird. Mike could make money on the sideshow circuit, he believed. And he was right.
The chicken was brought to Salt Lake City where it was first checked by scholars at the University of Utah. As the chicken appeared more than ready to live its second life, its story ended up in Life Magazine. One more story was issued in Time. A tour around the U.S. followed for Miracle Mike.
Clara Olsen would document Mike’s journey in a scrapbook. And for the duration of the tour, the chicken traveled better than some people will in a lifetime. With the Olsens, Mike was taken to California, then Arizona. As the family needed a break to take care of other duties back at the farm, the chicken continued its tour without them, accompanied by Hope Wade.
Mike reportedly earned his owners about $4,500 per month, while its value was pegged at $10,000. Miracle Mike was so famous that people even wrote letters to the Olsens because of the chicken.
Mike, the Headless Chicken Was Real
Then, it eventually happened: a tragic death in a motel room as the Olsens were accompanying Mike to Phoenix, Arizona. On the night of March 17, 1947, they were woken by the sound of their feathered money-machine choking. In the attempt to save Mike, nobody managed to find the syringe to clear his airway. The show was over.
And the explanation for why Miracle Mike survived for 18 months? And also, why, though many people tried to replicate another Mike by beheading their chicken, this miracle would just not repeat itself over and over?
It seems, in Mike’s case, the cut was made at just the right angle. The hatchet blow had removed Mike’s head, but a great deal of his brain mass was left untouched, including the brain stem which controls essential functions like regulating the heart and breathing.
The fact that Mike didn’t bleed to death is what amazes experts. As Dr Tom Smulders from the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution at Newcastle University told the BBC, it is easier to explain why Mike’s body continued to function even without the head.
In his native Fruita, today Mike is remembered with a metal sculpture depicting his headless body. The town even hosts an annual Headless Chicken day each May, in honor of Miracle Mike.
Stefan is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Vintage News. He is a graduate in Literature. He also runs the blog This City Knows.