Campaign Fowl, by Carol Off

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

To change your password click here.

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.

From an interview with Jim Puckett, the mayor of Fitzgerald, Georgia, that was conducted in November by the CBC Radio correspondent Carol Off. Puckett lost his 2021 bid for reelection after spending almost $300,000 to build a sixty-four-foot-tall topiary chicken.

carol off: Mayor Puckett, the voters have spoken. Do you have any regrets about your giant chicken?

jim puckett: No ma’am, none whatsoever. My giant chicken has done exactly what I wanted it to do.

off: You spent $300,000 and you just got defeated. Why is it a success?

puckett: Because we’ve been on the front page of the Wall Street Journal twice. I’ve been in newspapers across the country, from New York to San Francisco to China to India. We’ve got a great little town and this chicken has garnered us worldwide recognition. Now, the voters obviously don’t see the importance of that. You might not like everything that I do, but you’re never going to say I sat around and didn’t do anything.

off: Okay, so you mention the Wall Street Journal, which said that this election campaign was a referendum on your chicken, and it turns out that you got sixty-nine votes and that your opponent got 95 percent of the votes cast. So a lot of people were quite unhappy with this project.

puckett: Yes ma’am. With the city and the county we’re about 19,000, and there are definitely a lot of people who do not understand what I was trying to do. And I’m okay with that. I’m very, very proud.

off: Okay, but this giant topiary chicken never got completed. It has no greenery on it. Tell us what you thought your giant chicken would be.

puckett: Hopefully, when they put the greenery on it, it’s going to end up being the world’s largest topiary chicken. And it’s got an Airbnb in it that you’ll be able to rent out. It will be up to the next administration to finish it. They’re going to finish the chicken—we’re $291,000 in.

off: But what you got is a giant rebar silhouette of a chicken, right?

puckett: Correct.

off: And nothing growing on it. Now, it does take a lot of work, with gardening and trimming, to get topiary to grow on something that large, does it not?

puckett: I’m not going to say it doesn’t take a lot of work, but once it’s grown the upkeep will be minimal. We’ll have an irrigation system that waters it. It’s not something that you’re gonna have to have your landscape crew come by once a week to maintain. But this is all new, and that’s one reason for the problems we ran into—there’s no consultant for a sixty-four-foot, nine-and-a-half-ton steel chicken. It’s a learning experience for all of us.

off: But your local people, they’re pretty critical. They said, “Who the hell needs a chicken in Fitzgerald? We need housing.” The Unfinished Rooster Rusty, they’re calling it. They’re calling for it to be demolished. What do you say to those people?

puckett: Every time it makes a national article, I get calls from people saying, “Hey, I’ve got my credit card in my hand. I’m ready to book that chicken right now. We want to come to Fitzgerald.” I’m not kidding!

off: But why a chicken?

puckett: Oh, great question! In Fitzgerald, we have these wild Burmese chickens that run around our town. In the late Seventies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture did an experiment about thirty minutes from here with these wild Burmese chickens. I don’t know all the details, but the wild Burmese chickens that they released somehow migrated to Fitzgerald, and they’re all over town. You may go to a red light down on Main Street—this is no exaggeration—and a family of chickens may walk right in front of you across the street. The locals have a love-hate relationship with the chickens. Some think they’re beautiful and gorgeous. Some can’t stand them because they crow. And we actually have a city ordinance that you can’t harm these chickens. Inevitably, when I bring a prospect to Fitzgerald that wants to open up a manufacturing plant, one of the first questions we get is, “Hey, can we see the wild chickens?” So I decided one day: You know what? We’re going to build a wild chicken.

off: So this is a tribute to feral Burmese jungle fowl—

puckett: Chickens.

off: Chickens, yes. So you have the chicken almost built. What if the new mayor decides he’s going to have the chicken put down?

puckett: It would kill me.


More from