Mike the chicken was not even six months old when he got his head cut off, but almost two years old when he finally died.
The story goes something like this: Mike the chicken was to be dinner one night in September 1945, in Fruita, Colorado, but after his beheading he just couldn’t sit still. He walked around trying to preen, peck, and crow, the last of which usually resulted in a gurgling sound.
To try to figure out what had gone wrong (or right, for Mike), the headless chicken was taken to the University of Utah for tests. Attempts at the university to replicate the fate of Mike were fruitless. Many chickens died. But Mike lived on. Apparently his neck had been cut in exactly the right place.
One modern-day chicken expert theorizes that pretty much all Mike lost to the axe was his face. The blade missed his jugular vein, which, along with a timely blood clot, is why he didn’t bleed to death. The reason he kept moving is that the majority of the bird brain is in the very back of the head, where basic and motor functions are controlled. This is why chickens other than Mike have been known to run around with their heads cut off. Mike still had 80 percent of his brain, and his neurons were still active and receiving oxygen.
Miracle Mike the Headless Chicken, as he came to be known, toured the country for 18 months after that fateful night. At 25 cents per peek, he brought his owners a lot of money. He was fed a mixture of milk and water with an eyedropper, as well as small kernels of corn that were put down his throat.
His throat also had to be cleaned every so often to prevent mucus buildup, and one night in Phoenix, Arizona, Mike choked to death on a piece of corn. His owners had left the syringe they used to clean his throat at the sideshow Mike had been part of the day before and were unable to help him. Mike’s body has never been found.
There is a sculpture of Mike on the corner of Aspen and Mulberry Streets in Fruita, which also honors him with an annual “Mike the Headless Chicken Festival,” usually in May or June. Attendees can participate in events like the “5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race” and “Pin the Head on the Chicken.”
The Atlas Obscura Podcast is a short, daily celebration of all the world’s strange and wondrous places. Check out this episode about Mike the Headless Chicken.
Know Before You Go
The above coordinates are for the sculpture of Mike the Headless Chicken in Fruita, Colorado.