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Mike the Headless Chicken (Rooster)

May 11 - FRUITA - While most communities observe Colorado Heritage Week with events dedicated to pioneers, the town of Fruita has decided to celebrate with something that only the Western Slope town can crow about. Rupert Pumpkin

Mike the Headless Chicken Day on Sunday will honor a 1940s rooster who for 4 1/2 years strutted around, fattened up on grain and preened for hens - all without a head.

Mike lost his head in 1945 when a Fruita farmer, anticipating a chicken dinner, lopped off the head of a young Wyandotte rooster. Instead of croaking and getting sent to the cooking pot, Mike the rooster wobbled away from the chopping block and resumed his temporarily interrupted barnyard activities with the rest of the heads-on chickens.

His headless life garnered him spreads in Life and Time magazines and a listing in the Guinness Book of Records. He had his own manager and toured the country in sideshows with a two-headed calf. He was studied by scientists, who determined an intact brain stem was keeping Mike going.

Mike's fame faded out after he finally died from choking on a corn kernel, but now headless Mike is in for a revival of sorts.

Mike the Headless Chicken Day will feature a 5K Run Like a Headless Chicken race, egg tosses, chicken jokes, a chicken lunch and chicken bingo, in which numbers are chosen by where chicken droppings fall on a numbered grid. There will also be music, microbrew competitions and historic tours of the town.

"To celebrate our history in Fruita, we wanted to have something light-hearted,'' said Sally Edington, executive director of the Fruita Chamber of Commerce. "We wanted to celebrate this little guy because he was very determined to live. We like that.''

According to old accounts in the Fruita Times newspaper, Mike's determination first showed itself Sept. 10, 1945, when farmer L.A. Olsen tried to please his mother-in-law while he was slaughtering dinner. Her favorite fried-chicken piece was the neck, so Olsen carefully placed his ax to leave as much neck as possible on Mike's body.

Chickens have been known to flutter around for seconds or minutes after being decapitated, but after a few shaky steps, Mike fluffed up his feathers and went about his business in the barnyard with the other, heads on chickens. He went through the motions of pecking for food, preening his feathers and tucking what used to be his head under his wing when he slept. He tried to crow, but only a gurgle came out.

When he was still alive the following morning, Olsen decided he might be more valuable as an oddity than a dinner and started dropping grain and water into his gullet opening with an eyedropper.

When Mike was still alive a week later, Olsen packed him up and took him to Salt Lake City so incredulous University of Utah scientists could study him. From that time on, Olsen and a manager he hired were the ones running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They took Mike and Mike's head, which Olsen had preserved in alcohol, to Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlantic City and New York City. They set up photo shoots with magazines and newspapers and kibitzed with scientists across the country.

Olsen also dealt with predecessors of animal-rights activists, who blasted him for leaving a chicken alive in such a state. They begged him to finish the hatchet job on the Mike. But Fruita old-timers remember that Mike grew and thrived and didn't seem much bothered by being minus a head. Gayle Meyer, who interviewed Olsen in the 1980s before he died, said he described Mike as "a robust chicken - a fine specimen of a chicken except for not having a head.'' Copyright 1999 The Denver Post.

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