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Miracle Mike, The Headless Chicken

"Miracle Mike, The Headless Chicken" is copyright    2023 by James G. Mundie. All rights reserved.  Reproduction prohibited.

Ink drawing on paper, 9.25 x 6.25 inches, 2023


On 10 September 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, selected a 5-month-old rooster named Mike for that night's dinner. Olsen proceeded to decapitate the hapless chicken in the usual way and Mike then obliged by running around in the traditional manner of newly headless poultry. After the initial fuss had subsided, Olsen found that Mike was still able to perch and walk, although less gracefully than before. It seems the ax that struck off Mike's head left one ear and most of his brainstem intact, which controls a chicken's basic bodily functions and reflex actions. A blood clot prevented a fatal hemorrhage. With Mike unexpectedly still among the living, Olsen recognized that there was something special about him and decided to nurse the bird back to health. Olsen fed Mike a mixture of water and milk with an eye-dropper and eventually poked grain and earthworms down Mike's esophagus. Mike was soon going about his business like a normal cock, even crowing with a strange throaty gurgle.

As word about Mike's miraculous survival began to spread, Mike was on ascendancy from dinner to celebrity. Mike soon toured with traveling sideshows and began to earn his owner a considerable income at 25-cents-a-peek, reportedly bringing in more than $1,000 a week at the height of his popularity (equivalent to about $16,000 today). Consequently, Olsen took out a $10,000 insurance policy on the bird. Mike was featured in numerous newspaper articles and had full feature photo spreads in both Life and Time magazines.

Miracle Mike finally joined the hereafter on the evening of 17 March 1947, following asphyxiation in a Phoenix, Arizona, motel room. One report stated that the Olsen's had accidentally left Mike's cleaning syringes back with the sideshow the previous day and were unable to save him from choking on a kernel of corn. Others posit that Mike may have finally suffocated due to an inevitably collapsed trachea. Whatever the cause of his overdue demise, Mike lived an astonishing 1 year, 6 months, and one week without his head. In true showman fashion, Olson claimed to have sold Mike, creating rumors that he was still alive and working the show circuit well into 1949. Certainly, he could have continued to earn as taxidermy.

Today, the town of Fruita celebrates Mike's memory with a statue and its annual Mike The Headless Chicken Festival. In my tribute to Mike, I drew him standing in an arched window at daybreak beside his head preserved in a mason jar. The rising sun acts as a halo, occupying the place where Mike's head used to be. The landscape behind Mike is based on a view of Devil's Canyon near his hometown.

This drawing will be featured in the exhibition Conversations with the Other, 4 March 29 April 2023, and is available for purchase from Stanek Gallery in Philadelphia.


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All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2006 - 2023