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Chickens & the Historical Record

    It all began with Eesop who worked his way out of slavery by using his wit to create fables. He wrote a story about a mother who wisely advised her daughter not to count her chickens before they were hatched.

     Having set the historic beginning, we have to fast forward to the French religious wars of the16th century where Henri Bourbon escaped his Catholic jailers to reclaim his leadership of the Protestant Huguenot movement. He went on to become Henri IV of France and in a conversation with the Duke of Savoy, Henri prayed, “If God grants me longer life, I will see to it that no peasant in my kingdom will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot every Sunday."

     Right before the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover upped the ante with the campaign slogan that promised “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” It is likely that Henri IV would have made the same promise had industrialization occurred 300 years earlier.

    About the same time that Henri IV was escaping from prison, Giovanni Filippo was in Palermo studying the dreaded chicken pox. The name “chicken pox” was used centuries before the virus was discovered and it came about because the pale blisters on the skin of the victim resemble chickpeas. In a smooth political move, the humble, yet clever garbanzo bean, was able to shift the pox onto the chicken.

     In old England, after an argument with his father, Samuel Butler moved to New Zealand to raise sheep. It was in the quiet green hillsides of New Zealand where Butler read Origin of the Species. Later, in a tribute to Darwin's insight, Butler stated, “A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg.”

    Anna Robertson was 80 years old when she began painting in earnest and assumed the name Grandma Moses. Later in life when someone asked her if she had an alternative to painting, she quipped, "If I didn't start painting, I would have raised chickens." She died at age 101 having produced over 1500 works of art and one can only imagine that had she raised chickens, what colorful animals they would have been.

    After a robust adolescence, Thomas Merton entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a community of ascetic Trappist monks where he struggled to express himself through the pen. He managed to write over 50 books about monastic spiritual life, civil rights, and nonviolence. When asked about his accomplishments in the confines of Trappist discipline, he remarked, “An author in a Trappist monastery is like a duck in a chicken coop. And he would give anything in the world to be a chicken instead of a duck.” 

    Chicken references are not isolated to writers, artists, and clerics. It is known that Frank Lloyd Wright contemplated chicken architecture as there are two related quotes attributed to him. The first comes from a noble man of small ego where he modestly states, “Regard it just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral.” The second attribution, however, is from a man with a larger ego and reads, “"I can build everything from a chicken coop to a cathedral. And everything will be beautiful."

     The wrap up to our historic journey brings us to western New York in the early 1960’s where Dominic Bellisimo, the owner of a bar in Buffalo was having a busy Friday night serving his mostly Catholic crowd. At that time, Catholics were prohibited from eating meat on Friday so to show his gratitude; Dominic prepared a batch of broiled chicken wings, covered them with hot sauce, and served them shortly after midnight. Although these chicken wings have become quite famous, most of the credit has gone to the Buffalo.