Headless chickens in Colorado history | SummitDaily.com

Headless chickens in Colorado history

Keely Brown

I was going to write about books this week – an enlightening one on polar exploration comes to mind – but I was sidetracked, as I often am, by that one resource that could have been invented expressly for insomniacs – the internet.One evening, during a period of profound wakefulness, I put in a search using several nearby towns in and around Summit County. I love to do Colorado-related searches online; each day convinces me more and more that we live in the most eccentric state in the union.Anyway, I found a few sites labeled “Colorado Oddities” – and that’s where I got sidetracked for the rest of the week. You know how there are some urban legends that are so absolutely wonderful, you just hope and pray that they’re really, really true?Well, this one isn’t like that at all. But it is, indeed, true.Our little story starts in the town of Fruita where farmer Lloyd Olsen decided that he wanted a chicken dinner one Sunday in 1945.

Farmer Olsen went out to the chicken pen and chopped off the head of a chicken named “Mike” (no, I don’t know if the chicken had a name before he chopped off its head, or, if so, why they would give a pet name to an animal intended for consumption. I don’t know everything.)Anyway, after the deed was done, Mike continued to run around the chicken pen for a bit (beheaded critters sometimes do this – it’s a muscle spasm thing). Not particularly enjoying the spectacle, Farmer Olsen left to come back later.Here’s where it gets better – or much, much worse, depending on your point of view. When Farmer Olsen returned, there was Mike, strutting around with the rest of his buddies, fluffing up his feathers, and yes, even pecking for food (with WHAT, I don’t know, and don’t ask me). Apparently, being now brainless, he didn’t realize that his food-pecking days were over.Farmer Olsen decided to sleep on the whole thing, and came back the next morning to find Mike sound asleep, with the remnants of his neck tucked under his wing. That’s when, reports tell us, Olsen realized that he was on to something pretty special (actually, I can think of a few words other than “special” that would apply here). He started “feeding” Mike by pushing an eyedropper filled with grain and water down his esophagus – which apparently, he still had. The following week, Olsen took Mike to visit several scientists at the University of Utah, who informed him that the ax blade had missed Mike’s jugular vein, causing the wound to clot and leaving part of his brain stem. Long live Mike!

Actually, he did – live long, I mean. He lived for another 18 months, during which the Olsens took him on a tour throughout the United States. For a 25 cent admission fee, you could see Mike, fat and happy (he gained six pounds on what was in that eyedropper), strutting his stuff. According to reports, people everywhere lined up to see him. He was insured for $10,000 and made it to both Time and Life magazines – as well as, of course, the Guinness Book of World Records.Today, there are pictures of Mike all over the internet. He looks kind of like what you’d get in the grocery store deli, except that he’s got feet and feathers.There is even a Mike Festival in Fruita the third week of May every year. Festival events include a 5k race called “Run Like a Headless Chicken.” And yes, he has his own website: http://www.miketheheadlesschicken.org. I could go on with this story, but I’d rather not. It’s one of those stories where you don’t know whether to be outraged, disgusted, ghoulishly amused, or all three. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is, how did they know that the headless critter was happy? How can you be happy without a head?

But I think the thing that bothers me the most is the admission charge. It’s not the amount – although 25 cents back in 1945 went a lot further than it does today – but it’s the issue of charging admission at all to look on another creature’s misery. (Although you could almost use the same argument – how can you be miserable without a head?)Anyway, Mike’s fans in Fruita claim that the story is inspirational because of Mike’s overwhelming will to live. But the word “will” signifies choice. And did Mike really have a choice? If he did, he certainly couldn’t reason it out – he didn’t have a head.I could go on and on with this, but I won’t. The whole thing is beyond me. Maybe there’s a metaphor here, maybe not – but if there happens to be one, I think I’d rather not pursue it.But did you know that in Louisville, Colo., by law you’re not even allowed to own a chicken? It has to do with the Great Grasshopper Plague of 1874. Now THAT’s Colorado history.

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