Giant chicken.

The Big Chicken

Field review by the editors.

Marietta, Georgia

The Big Chicken commands the strip along Cobb Parkway in Marietta, its goggled eyes visible a mile away, peering above the inferior signage of competitors. The 56-foot-tall bird, originally built in 1963 as Johnny Reb's Chick-Chuck-'N'-Shake, was the vision of Stanley R. "Tubby" Davis, who simply wanted something as high as possible to attract customers. For measures of practicality and economy, the chicken was designed as an abstraction -- basically a huge corrugated steel flange, painted red.

1988 view of chicken.
1988 view of the chicken.

There were embellishments, of course, such as eyes that rolled, a beak that opened and closed, and a comb that moved as if in a breeze. But when the motor for these features was first turned on, every window in the restaurant shattered. No one could figure out how to dampen the vibrations, so the chicken became a goofy, motionless giant.

Kentucky Fried Chicken took over the Big Chicken in 1974. According to one of the many newspaper clippings displayed inside the restaurant, Colonel Sanders himself visited the Big Chicken and ordered it torn down; he thought that KFC should be promoting him, not a chicken. The Colonel relented only after learning that the Marietta restaurant was the busiest KFC franchise on the entire planet.

Big Chicken memorabilia on display.
Big Chicken showcase includes needlework and the golden shovel that broke ground for Big Chicken 2.0.

That was only the first of several near-death experiences survived by the chicken. Another came in 1989, when KFC secretly offered to tear down the chicken and move it to a new restaurant in neighboring Smyrna when its old Marietta lease expired. Marietta's citizens got wind of the deal, a populist uprising resulted, and the chicken stayed.

Fan mail from Miss Cobb County 2006.
Fan mail from Miss Cobb County 2006.

Then, just after New Year's 1993, high winds began plucking steel panels off the Big Chicken's neck. KFC brought in inspectors who discovered to their horror that the entire steel framework of the chicken had been eaten away by decades of pigeon poop. On January 15 the company announced that the Big Chicken would be torn down. This unleashed a PR nightmare for KFC; even Washington politicians such as Newt Gingrich expressed their love for the chicken and anger at KFC. Ten days later the company flip-flopped and announced that it would spend $200,000 to rebuild the Big Chicken and $500,000 to rebuild the restaurant. This news made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. "She will fly again!"

Tubby Davis lived to see Big Chicken 2.0 open for business in 1994, expressing amazement in the newspapers that his creation had become so popular. Pepsi chipped in for the restoration, so the new Big Chicken features a prominent Pepsi logo -- a shocking sight in this heartland of Coca-Cola. And the new chicken's animated eyeballs show that engineers finally figured out how to make them roll without destroying the restaurant.

The Big Chicken

12 Cobb Pkwy N., Marietta, GA
I-75 Exit 263. Drive west on Hwy 120/South Marietta Pkwy SE fir three-quarters of a mile. Bear right onto Cobb Pkwy. Drive north three-quarters of a mile. You'll see the chicken on the right.
RA Rates:
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Nearby Offbeat Places

Giant Hands of Dr. SidGiant Hands of Dr. Sid, Marietta, GA - 1 mi.
Gone With the Wind MuseumGone With the Wind Museum, Marietta, GA - 2 mi.
Walking Dead CDCWalking Dead CDC, Atlanta, GA - 6 mi.
In the region:
Giant Spider on a Roof, Woodstock, GA - 10 mi.

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