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Mike the Headless Chicken

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This pasta text is copied from the book--Alien Hand Syndrome and Other Too-Weird-Not-To-Be-True Stories [1]

by Alan Bellows and the Editors of Damn Interesting


Mike-the-headless-chicken

Mike the headless chicken with his supposedly 'actual' pickled head. A cat had already eaten the original.

A man's attempt to procure a chicken dinner instead produces an amazing --and profitable--miracle bird

On September 10, 1945, Clara Olsen was having her mother over for dinner, so she dispatched her husband, Lloyd to fetch a chicken for the frying. He grabbed a small ax and headed out to a coop on his small farm in Fruita, Colorado. Olsen selected a delicious-looking five-and-a-half-month-old rooster and set him on the block. Knowing that clara's mother was fond of crispy chicken neck, Lloyd held the condemned fowl firmly and aimed the killing stroke to leave as much as neck as possible. With a well-practiced hand, Lloyd  heaved back and struck off the rooster's head.

In his years of slaughtering chickens, Lloyd was accustomed to seeing them run a few circles before they fell down and stopped thrashing, but this particular bird stood up, puffed out his feathers, and staggered back into the coop. Inside, the headless rooster started hopelessly making the motions of pecking for corn and preening. Llyod scratched his head and went back in the house, figuring the bird would eventually drop dead.

The next morning Llyod headed to the coop to find the decapitated rooster huddled in a corner with his neck stump tucked under a wing, resting but still very much alive. He reasoned that if a bird had that much will to stay alive, then it was his duty to help. Rather than receiving a dose of flour and a bath in cooking oil, the rooster got a name and a publicity agent as he toured the country as "Mike, the Miracle Chicken."

Though Mike tried valiantly to feed himself, he relied on his human handlers to insert kernels of corn and drops of water into his exposed throat. He attempted to crow, but would emit only a strangled gurgle. A week after the beheading, Mike remained healthy and strong, so the enterprising farmer put the rooster's head in a jar and took the bird for a 250-mile trip to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. There the bid was given over for examination, and the science staff listed his condition as "alive" and "headless." 

After studying the bird and his head for some time, the experts concluded that the bird had survived the chopping block thanks to the farmer's efforts to preserve as much neck as possible.  Much of the brain stem still remained at the top of the neck, and since the common rooster doesn't use many higher brain functions, the loss of the cerebrum was not fatal.

The Olsens devised a way to keep the bird alive by feeding it a gruel of corn and grain, and they cleaned out the throat regularly with a syringed so that Mike Wouldn't choke on his ow mucus. Normally the lack of a brain would hamper one's career options, but a local PR man named Hope Wade saw opportunity where others saw only oddity. Asking for just a small percentage of the profits, Wade sent the Olsens on a cross-country tour with "Miracle Mike the Headless Chicken."  Setting up at various carnivals and festivals, they charged two bits a head to gawk at the decapitated fowl.

The Olsens described Mike as "happy as any other chicken," and indeed save for the red scab on his neck, he was so healthy that animal-rights activists found little reason to protest his treatment. There were, however, some unfortunate causalities when other residents of Fruita took the ax to their own helpless roosters in attempts to re-create the Olsens' $4,500-a-month attraction.

Although he was unable to see, smell, or hear, Mike was able to visit places that few other chickens had dared to dream. He stopped by such locales as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Diego in the months after he lost his head. Oblivious to the crowds of awestruck onlookers, Mike strutted about and attempted to preen and peck corn with his unequipped neck. 

He was arguably the most famous bird of his time.  Life magazine documented Mike in a series of photographs, and the Guinness World Records people recorded his incredible survival.  His plight even became the subject of a playground chant, as children sang, "Mike, Mike where's your head?  Even without it, you're not dead!"

Then one day, just after a carnival trip to Phoenix March 1947, the Olsens were awakened in their hotel room by the sounds of panicked wheezing from Mike.  There was a mad scrabble to find the syringe used to clear foreign objects from the famous chicken's throat, but it was nowhere to be found.  As the Olsens looked on helplessly, their prize rooster asphyxiated on his own phlegm and died.  Though Mike had put on a few pounds in the 18 months since her was beheaded, the Olsens didn't have the stomach to eat him.

Although Mike is dead, his legacy lives on even today.  A larger-than-life statue of him stands proudly, and headlessly, in his hometown of Fruita, Colorado.  Every summer, on the third weekend in May, the town holds a "Mike the Headless Chicken Festival" as tribute to the bird's inspiring will to live.  It features events like a car show, a Chicken Dance contest, a 5k "Run Like a Headless Chicken," and a "good egg award."  Mike has also become the inspiration for the poultry-themed, comedy punk band "The Radioactive Chicken Heads", serving as the subject of their 2008 song "Headless Mike". [2]

It may be the old place in the world where one can procure "chicken noodle soup." Ironically, the festival is famous for its fried chicken. As the festival's promoters proclaim, "Attending this fun, family event is a no-brainer!"

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