The Least Adorable Pet: Miracle Mike The Headless Chicken
Exotic pets are often quite ugly–that’s part of the fun in having one. Their owners think it’s neat to keep repulsive animals such as tarantulas, snakes, and hissing cockroaches. But such unadorable creatures are like cuddly teddy bears compared to Miracle Mike, the celebrated headless chicken of Fruita, Colorado.
Once upon a time, way back in 1945, Mike was but another unnamed rooster, just one of many chickens living on Lloyd and Clara Olsen’s farm and destined for the refrigerated section of the grocery store. On September 10, Mr. Olsen selected several chickens for the chopping block. As usual after decapitation, each chicken scrambled and scratched for a moment by reflex. One rooster, however, kept running around the yard, as if it hadn’t realized its head was sitting on the ground.
The next morning, the headless chicken was still proudly strutting around as if nothing had happened. Surprised and curious, the Olsens began feeding it, dripping a gruel of crushed grain and water down its throat, to see how long it could survive. And the rooster thrived–as much as it could without a head–climbing onto perches, making gurgling noises in an attempt to crow, and futilely attempting to preen its feathers with its phantom head.
Word about the headless rooster spread quickly through town and caught the attention of a local promoter named Hope Wade, who dubbed him “Miracle Mike” and sent him and the Olsens on the road. For 25 cents, people could enter a tent to see Miracle Mike in action, and peer into a liquid-filled jar containing the preserved remains of Mike’s head. (Actually, it was the head of another chicken–the Olsens’ cat had eaten Mike’s real head.) Mike was a big hit, raking in $4,500 a month (more than $44,000 in today’s money).
Soon, envious Fruitans began chopping off the heads of their own chickens with renewed enthusiasm, hoping to get another Mike–but no one was able to repeat the lucky mistake made by Olsen. He had delivered a blow that left enough of Mike’s brain stem intact to allow it to function almost normally.
Unfortunately, Mike’s second chance at life came to an end in March 1947. Because of his condition, Mike needed to have his throat cleared regularly with a syringe to prevent him from choking on his own mucus. But one fateful night, in a Phoenix, Arizona, hotel room, the sound of Miracle Mike’s frantic rasping awakened the Olsens. The couple suddenly realized that they had left Mike’s syringe back at the carnival, and they watched helplessly as the poor animal breathed his last breath, 18 months after having his head chopped off.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects