No, it’s not the latest eye-popping item from the always entertaining Weekly World News. Instead, it’s an actual headline from the October 22, 1945, issue of LIFE magazine, above an article about … well, a headless chicken: “Beheaded Chicken Lives Normally After Freak Decapitation by Ax.”
“Ever since Sept. 10,” LIFE informed its readers, “a rangy Wyandotte rooster named Mike has been living a normal chicken’s life though he has no head.” Mike, it seems, “lost his head in the usual rooster way. Mrs. L.A. Olson, wife of a farmer in Fruita, Colo., 200 miles west of Denver, decided to have chicken for dinner. Mrs. Olson took Mike to the chopping block and axed off his head. Thereupon Mike got up and soon began to strut around…. What Mrs. Olson’s ax had done was to clip off most of the skull but leave intact one ear, the jugular vein and the base of the brain, which controls motor function.”
The rest is poultry history. Mike lived for 18 months after losing his head, finally succumbing at a motel in the Arizona desert in 1946 during one of his many appearances as a sideshow attraction in the American southwest.
Here, LIFE.com presents Mike’s unlikely story, as well as the utterly unsettling pictures that ran (and some that never ran) in LIFE.
Mike the headless chicken “dances” in 1945.
Mike the headless chicken in his Colorado barnyard, with fellow chickens, 1945.
A picture of the suitcase containing the tools for feeding Mike the headless chicken, including an eye dropper that was used to provide sustenance through the hole atop his torso where his head used to be.
Mike the headless chicken is fed through an eye dropper, directly into his esophagus, in 1945.
Promoter Hope Wade holds Mike the headless chicken’s formerly useful noggin, as if attempting to reintroduce the bird to its lost self, in 1945. (Some reports, however, claim that the Olsons’ cat ate Mike’s head, and that another rooster’s head stood in for Mike’s during his brief brush with fame.)
Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.