Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Incredible Tale of Lazarus, the Headless Rooster

Update: Please read the story below, but first, you can now watch a rare film about Lazarus from 1949.

By Don Ray and Neal Velgos
First written in 1984 but never before published.

Who would believe such a farfetched tale? A chicken gets its head chopped off, then comes back to life and walks around crowing for three weeks as if nothing is wrong. Stranger things have happened. That’s where the humans come in. Thousands show up to see the headless wonder. City officials pose next to it for photos. And eventually, the owner has to go to court to keep it alive.
Many folks in South-Central Los Angeles believed the story — at least those who saw it with their own eyes. They recalled that spring day in 1949 when a neighbor woman bought the beheaded chicken, and had to change her dinner plans that evening. The woman was Martha Green, and she named her headless — but definitely not lifeless — chicken Lazarus. The two of them made nationwide news that year.
Lazarus put the small community of Watts on the map, at least briefly. It was long before riots that would start  just a block way and would scar the city and its people in 1965. It the story of Lazarus played out years before Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers would be recognized as a folk art landmark.
The story began on April 2nd in a feed store in the 11800 block of San Pedro Street, where a New Hampshire Red Fry had an appointment with the chopping block. Mrs. Green paid $2 for the four-pound chicken, dropped it in her bag and covered it with vegetables and canned goods.
It didn’t make a peep until she got it home an hour later.
Mrs. Green told reporters that she had dumped it in the sink, turned on the hot water and put away the food. She turned around to pluck the bird, but what she saw made her scream and run from the house. The rooster stood on the sink — very much alive — and crowed the best it could — without its head, that is.
Mrs. Green, then close to 60 years old, was not frightened for long. She had raised and killed hundreds of chickens on the farm back in Illinois, and not one of them had ever ignored death’s call in quite this way. There had to be some explanation, and her strong religious belief supplied the answer. She spread the word that Lazarus was a sign from God.
Walter Pierce, 69, who still lived in Watts in 1984, recalled how the story spread around the neighborhood.
“Everyone around here was saying a woman’s go a chicken with its neck cut off — crowing! It was a miracle. And all miracles,” he said, “come from heaven.”
Edward S. Cooper, 77 in 1984, was an attorney who watched with interest as the episode unfolded.
“The story got out very quickly,” he said, “and people came to her home on foot, on bicycles, and what-not. And from then on, the story was picked up and Lazarus became a real thing.”