If someone is running round like a headless chicken or rushing around like a headless chicken, they are panicking when they should be thinking carefully about what needs to be done. This is of course a figuratively expression.
However for one unfortunate, or fortunate. chicken this saying had a literal meaning.
On 10 September 1945 Lloyd Olsen and his wife Clara were killing chickens, on their farm in Fruita, Colorado. Olsen would decapitate the birds, his wife would clean them up. But one of the 40 or 50 animals that went under Olsen’s hatchet that day didn’t behave like the rest. The chicken became to be known as ‘Mike’
The axe removed the bulk of the head, but missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact.
Due to Olsen’s failed attempt to behead Mike, the chicken was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily. He attempted to preen, peck for food, and crow, though with limited success; his “crowing” consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat. When Mike did not die, Olsen instead decided to care for the bird. He fed it a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper, and gave it small grains of corn and worms.
Word spread around Fruita about the miraculous headless bird. The local paper dispatched a reporter to interview Olsen, and two weeks later a sideshow promoter called Hope Wade travelled nearly 300 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah. He had a simple proposition: take the chicken on to the sideshow circuit – they could make some money.
They went to California and Arizona, and Hope Wade took Mike on a tour of the south-eastern United States when the Olsens had to return to their farm to collect the harvest. The bird’s travels were carefully documented by Clara in a scrapbook.
People around the country wrote letters – 40 or 50 in all – and not all positive. One compared the Olsens to Nazis, another from Alaska asked them to swap Mike’s drumstick in exchange for a wooden leg. Some were addressed only to “The owners of the headless chicken in Colorado”, yet still found their way to the family farm.
After the initial tour, the Olsens took Mike the Headless Chicken to Phoenix, Arizona, where disaster struck in the spring of 1947. It died there in Phoenix
Mike had managed to survive 18 months after he lost his head
Maybe Mike just wanted to experience of World War 2 and die as a bird in peace time.
The poem below was written by an Arba A Green, in 1945 in honor of Miracle Mike the Chicken.
“I listened and heard the farmer say,
“We’ll have this fowl for lunch today.”
Thought I, “There won’t be nothin’ doin’
I just can’t see myself a’stewin’.”
But he took the axe and chopped off my head
Then threw me down and left me for dead.
There on the ground for a moment I lay
Then I arose and walked away!
Said farmer Lloyd to his kindly wife,
“That’s the strangest thing I’ve seen in my life.”
Said the kindly wife to her farmer man,
“I can’t put him in the frying pan–
A fowl that hates so much to die–
There must be some good reason why.
And since he wants so much to live
Every living chance to him we’ll give.”
Through my esophagus they feed me corn,
They give me drink and keep me warm.
I’m well and happy as can be.
I stand around for folks to see.
Although I haven’t got a head–
I’m better off than if I’m dead!”
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