Friday, November 24, 2017
Events

How Hurricane Irma brought a 2-headed chicken to the St. Petersburg Museum of History

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The big reveal Friday at the St. Petersburg Museum of History’s Two-Headed Calf Fest celebrating oddities was a new donation to the tiny museum — a two-headed chicken.

And we have Hurricane Irma to thank for it.

The fundraising party was originally planned for Sept. 8, but the threat of Irma moved it to Sept. 16. Then the many power outages in Pinellas County forced party planners to make the leap to November. Meanwhile, a reader of the Tampa Bay Times took note of the coverage of the freaky calf, which was born in Safety Harbor in 1925 with two heads, six legs and two tails. It was taxidermied and donated to the museum, where it has been a popular exhibit ever since.

The reader had a friend, Thom Piragnoli, who had long ago bought a stuffed two-headed chicken from an auction at a bankrupt New Jersey carnival. He thought it was funny to display the chicken, reportedly born near Tampa in the 1930s, but his wife wanted it out of the house.

So at Friday’s party, which featured alligators, fire eaters and side-show performances, they announced the newest resident, the two-headed chicken that lived eight months before it went on the carnival circuit.

"His big concern was that we might sell it, and I said, ‘Look, we’ve had this calf for more than 90 years, so I think our track record is good,'" said Rick Schmidt, the museum’s director of marketing.

Also making "news" Friday, partygoers voted on a name for the 92-year-old calf. The finalists were Topsy Turvy, Moo Too and Double Stuffed. But the winning name, as picked by tickets dropped in a milk bottle, was Half ‘n’ Half.

The oldest museum in Pinellas County, the St. Petersburg Museum of History opened in 1921 and over the decades has collected different artifacts, archival documents, photographs and specimens of natural history that have landed it on lists of weird roadside attractions and TV shows.

It is best known for its full scale replica of Tony Jannus’ Benoist XIV biplane seaplane that marked the beginning of the era of air travel. It also houses the world’s largest collection of autographed baseballs.

But its collection of oddities has often drawn more attention. A brassiere that was the focus of a salacious 1950s heist was featured on the Travel Channel show Mysteries at the Museum.

And an authentic mummy was featured on the cable show Museum Men. The 3,000-year-old sarcophagus arrived in St. Petersburg on a circus boat in 1922. The boat captain couldn’t afford the local port fees so he offered the mummy in lieu of payment.

And now a two-headed chicken joins the museum’s strange collection, which Schmidt said provides a golden opportunity to make the party an annual event.

"We have the chicken so it gives us another opportunity to have fun with the names," Schmidt said. "The calf has more history — no pun intended — than the majority of items in the museum so celebrating that each year would be fun."

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

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