Sep 10

Fowl Play: Mike the Headless Chicken

Exactly sixty-eight years ago to this day, in 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen from Colorado, United States, had his mother-in-law round for supper. As per the request of his wife, Lloyd went into the backyard to kill one of their chickens to be cooked. Lloyd picked a young cockerel named Mike, took his axe and chopped the poor bird’s head off. And so the story should have ended with the Olsens having a delicious chicken supper.

But it didn’t. Amazingly, Mike survived. The axe had missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of his brain stem intact. A blood clot prevented him from bleeding to death. Noticing that the beheaded chicken was still moving around, Lloyd decided against cooking Mike and turned him into a national star instead.


Photo: Bob Landry, Time & Life Pictures

Mike the Headless Chicken, as he was now known, toured around the country with the Olsens and appeared in various sideshows. At the height of his popularity, Mike was earning his owners $4,500 a month (the admission to see him was 25 cents). He could still walk clumsily and even balance on a perch, but despite his best efforts he was unable to feed or preen himself. The Oslens fed him a mixture of milk and water using an eyedropper, and also small grains of corn. He sometimes attempted to crow at dawn, but it merely consisted of a gargling sound made in his throat.


Photo: Bob Landry, Time & Life Pictures

Mike’s success led to a number of copycat chicken beheadings, but none of the others lasted for very long. Mike himself died in March 1947, a whole eighteen months after his head had been cut off, whilst touring in Phoenix, Arizona. Mike started choking in the middle of the night and, since the Olsens had accidentally left their feeding syringes at the sideshow, they were unable to save him. Lloyd Olsen merely claimed he had sold the bird off.

But whatever happened to Mike’s head? Well, a chicken head did tour alongside Mike and the Olsens even claimed it had once belonged to him. His original head, however, had actually been made off by the Olsens’ cat.

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