Mike The Headless Chicken was no dumb cluck

How do I get myself into these things? I know, it’s always tempting to think stuff happens to you that doesn’t happen to everyone else.

But, come on, does everyone get into squabbles with their coworkers over the Mike The Headless Chicken Festival in Fruita, Colorado?

This needs some setting up.

I’m a map nut. I love to look at maps and I’m pretty picky about them.

One of my proudest moments came in the 1970s when I found a mistake in the latitude scale of the Rand-McNally road atlas map of eastern Washington state. I contacted them and they corrected it in subsequent editions.

You know, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

(Okay, I can name you five of my friends who just went “yeah, if you’d proof read the stuff you write as well as you proof-read maps of eastern Washington...”)

So when I found a 2003 largescale road atlas of the U. S., I wore it out, turned pages until large chunks of the spiral binding came out.

I had to virtually re-thread the thing every time I turned past the “T’s.” You might say the atlas was T’s-ing me. Then again, you might not say that.

So I went looking for the new one. And found it, same thing but 2012 edition. And I was very disappointed.

It seems in the past nine years, the atlas has reduced its pages of actual maps and inserted pages of stuff to do in each state. Lots of stuff to do, over 120 pages.

I was bemoaning my fate one day at the break table at The Reporter to a most unsympathetic set of co-workers who didn’t seem to share my sense of outrage.

So I fired my big gun. “How can I take an atlas seriously that puts great big New Mexico on just one page, but gives a half page to the Mike The Headless Chicken Festival in Fruita, Colorado?”

Got a big laugh. And a lot of head shaking. I could read their eyes. That silly ol’ editor of ours can come up with some of the craziest jokes.

Except I wasn’t joking. There’s a Mike The Headless Chicken Festival and it’s in Fruita, Colorado.

Through the day, I kept trying to explain it to various co-workers. Conversations went like:

“Hey, have you gotten that email from the school yet and will you forward it to me?”

“Sure, it’s on the way. And there really was a Mike The Headless Chicken, dang it!”

I got about half mad. A real fowl mood. Of course: A. Nobody noticed; and B. Nobody would have cared anyway.

So, in the interests of journalistic accuracy, and wounded feelings—sniff, sniff—I present the following.

On Sept. 10, 1945, a farmer named Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado— just west of Grand Junction— went out into his yard to kill a chicken for supper because his mother-in-law was coming over.

(I can hear Milton Berle channeling: Why kill the chicken? It’s not his fault your mother-in-law’s coming.)

One chop and it’s all over. Except it wasn’t. The chicken was literally running around the yard without a head.

Now any farm veteran will tell you that happens from time to time. It’s well established that chickens and National League umpires don’t use that much of their brains anyway. Most headless chickens just run around, then flop dead. This one lived for 18 months.

Yes, 18 months. The ax had missed the bird’s brain stem and that kept it functioning.

When it became apparent the chicken, re-christened “Mike,” was going to live, the Olsens began feeding him with an eyedropper, mixtures of milk and water and a few grains of corn.

Olsen took Mike to the University of Utah to have him documented and examined.

(Too bad Olsen didn’t take him to Texas A&M because about the same time those good ol’ Aggies were developing a chicken with eight legs, to be bred for the drumstick market.)

How did he taste? We don’t know; they never could catch him.

Olsen, who was no dumb cluck, put Mike on display, charging 25 cents per view to see the famous headless chicken.

At the height of his popularity Mike earned $4,500 per month ($48,000 in 2010 dollars!), was in Time and Life magazines. and was valued at $10,000.

But Mike finally passed away in March, 1947, and became a No. 3 with fries, gravy and a biscuit.

You’d think that would be the end. But you don’t know the quirky little town of Fruita.

They adopted Mike as their town symbol. Their big weekend of the year comes in mid-May, the Mike The Headless Chicken Festival with a 5K run, car show, musical production, athletic tourneys and, of course, a chicken dance competition.

Their slogan is “Come to Fruita, it’s a no-brainer.” (That’s true, too. I like Fruita.)

Oh, and Mike was on the presidential primary ballot in Fruita this year. (Did I mention that I like Fruita?)

Okay, that’s it. I’m not saying any more about Mike.

I figure Mike The Headless Editor comments can’t be too far behind.

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2012-06-14 digital edition

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