Requiem For A Headless Chicken

fun and games at festival honoring Mike the Headless Chicken
Out in Western Colorado, the tiny town of Fruita is celebrating a particular chicken named Mike, with chicken dances, chicken costumes, egg tosses, chicken keychains and, yes, with chicken noodle soup. CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Bill Geist investigated.

There is a statue in Fruita of a headless chicken. That chicken was Mike. Legend has it that this particular chicken lived for a year and a half as a beheaded bird.

Could this poppycock possible be true? Beryl Oliver says she saw it with her own eyes.

"I thought it was something I'd never see," she says. "I didn't know, from a scientific physiological standpoint, it was possible to go on living without your head."

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"Yes, I think it's true," says yet another Mike fan. "Well, you know it's on the Internet."

Veterinarian Fred Baylor, dancing a polka in a bow tie that lights up, believes it, too. "The base part of the brain, where your basic biological functions were regulated, were still intact," Baylor explains.

On Sept. 10, 1945, a man named Lloyd Olson, the great-grandfather of Troy Waters, chased Mike the chicken around the barnyard and decapitated him. But Mike continued to run around.

"A lot of times, they usually live around a minute or so," says Teri Thomas, who wrote a book about Mike. "But for some reason, Mike just wouldn't succumb."

"You know what they say: We only use 10 percent of our brain anyway," Thomas adds.

"He still tried to peck at the ground even though he didn't have a beak," Thomas continues. "It was like he really didn't realize he didn't have a head."

"How did they keep him alive? They fed him with an eyedropper. Just right down his neck," Thomas adds. "Very healthy other than not having a head."

Here was a chicken that not only ran around with its head cut off, it hired an agent and went on tour. Many sent contracts, but only one got Mike to scratch on the dotted line.

Hope Wade was Mike's personal manager, says Thomas, adding, "He cme from Salt Lake City, big city slicker."

"And he smelled money, basically; he knew it was going to be big. And he convinced the Olsons to take Mike out on the sideshow circuit," Thomas says. "So Mike was becoming a star."

The proof of all this is in Troy Waters' scrapbook, which was originally kept by his great-grandmother. (She didn't keep scrapbooks for all the chickens, just Mike.)

It's filled with "Headless" headlines from around the country, including a clipping from Life magazine (a full page in the science section), and a clipping from Time, in which he got better play than the guy who invented the atomic bomb.

It cost 25 cents to get a look at Mike, and all those quarters added up. Dirt farmer Lloyd Olson had the headless chicken that laid the golden egg.

Says his great-grandson, "He was primarily farming with horse and mule back then. He come home and bought him a new tractor and some new farm equipment."

Naturally, his neighbors tried to duplicate the miracle.

"Fruita was the headless chicken capital of the world in the fall of 1945," says Fred the vet. "The others lived anywhere from a few hours to several days. Everyone tried to repeat it."

But, as happens with all too many superstars, disaster struck. Tragically, Mike the chicken choked to death in an Arizona motel in 1947. The little fella was only two years old.

No one knows where Mike is buried, but all agree he lived an uncommonly good life, considering he was born a fryer.

"I say he didn't end up on the dinner plate, and that's where he was headed," says Troy. "He got the cleanest finest straw to lay in. He was fed the finest grains. He was watched after day and night by somebody. You know, there's no chicken that gets that kind of attention, and Lloyd said he actually got to see more of the United States than any chicken in the United States."

Of course, when Troy says Mike saw more of the United States, it's really a figure of speech.

And the town of Fruita gathers each year to pay homage to Miracle Mike the Headless Chicken.

The story of Mike the chicken is an inspiring tale. You know, we all face problems in life. But even when the little guy had his head cut off, he didn't let it get him down.

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