"Matilda was an incredibly loving and trusting spirit, and we are all so truly privileged to have shared in her life. It is very rare that one has the opportunity to know one of God's creatures that daily exemplifies love, grace, pure joy, and unconditional love."
Matilda (1990 - February 11, 2006), the chicken, was a beloved pet and show bird of Mort and Donna. Weighing a mere fourteen ounces, Matilda is believed to have descended from the Red Pyle variation of the Old English Game breed of bantam chickens. Matilda lived the majority of her life indoors, inside a large cage, at Mort's and Donna's home in Bessemer, Alabama.
On October 19, 1990, Mort and Donna went to the Alabama State Fair in Fairfield, Alabama, to purchase a bantam hen they could train to appear in their magic act. The chicken that "chose them" was around six months old and being exhibited by Steve Shaffield of Warrior, Alabama. She was sold to Mort and Donna for $10.00, which they gladly paid.
Noticing this hen's enthusiasm for stepping side to side (as if she were waltzing) against the wire panels on the sides of her cage, Mort and Donna drew inspiration from "Waltzing Matilda", an old Australian folk song, and decided Matilda would be the perfect name for their fine feathered friend.
On June 5, 1991, Matilda began her magical career, which would span well over a decade. For the majority of her sixteen years, she was an active member of Mort's and Donna's magic act. Unlike most hens, Matilda did not produce eggs, so she was always even-tempered, adaptable, and perfectly suited for show business.
Mort's and Donna's audiences loved Matilda, and she captured the hearts of many loyal fans. At churches, she evoked inspiration. At medical facilities and retirement homes, she coaxed smiles. At schools and libraries, she sparked inquisitiveness. At birthday parties, she stirred imagination.
On April 27, 2004, Guinness World Records of London, England, officially declared Matilda, at the age of fourteen, to be World's Oldest Living Chicken. The tedious process of documenting and earning the title had begun on July 30, 2001, when Matilda was eleven years old.
As a direct result of Matilda’s receiving her title; she, Keith, and Donna were guests of Jay Leno on The Tonight Show in an episode that taped and aired on September 9, 2004. Also appearing on the show were Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, and Jim Brown. Musical guests were Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams.
After returning home from The Tonight Show, Matilda began putting her celebrity status to use by becoming an ambassador of good will and appearing as an honored guest at numerous charitable events, including Blessing of the Animals at St. Martin's in the Pines in Birmingham, Alabama; Tails and Art Benefit for the Alabama Animal Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama; Wet Nose Ball for TEARS (The Emergency Animal Rescue Service)] in Birmingham, Alabama; and Picasso Pets for Hand-In-Paw in Birmingham, Alabama.
On September 22, 2005, the Greater Birmingham Humane Society in Birmingham, Alabama, presented Matilda with the Olivia Bearden Award, which was given in honor of Matilda's specific service to man and animal. The awards brunch was held at The Club in Birmingham, Alabama.
Due to age-related health problems, Matilda retired from show business on October 17, 2005, and died on February 11, 2006. At the time of her death, she was sixteen years old. She lived one year, nine months, and fifteen days after receiving the title of World's Oldest Living Chicken.
On August 5, 2006, the Southeastern Association of Magicians and Ring 35 (Judge Arnold Drennen Ring); which is the Birmingham, Alabama, chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians; remembered Matilda's contributions to the world of magic by conducting a Broken Perch Ceremony in her honor. Held at the Hilton Birmingham Perimeter Park Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, this groundbreaking event gave Matilda the distinction of becoming the first magician's animal to ever be formally acknowledged by the magic community.
Bob Sanders, President of Ring 35, officiated at the ceremony; Jacque Meyer, Executive Director of the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, delivered the eulogy; and Bill Pitts, Past President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, conducted the Broken Perch ritual. Bob Sanders presented Keith and Donna with a Commendation, drafted by Alabama Governor Bob Riley, acknowledging Matilda's many accomplishments.
On September 9, 2006, the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association inducted Matilda into the Alabama Animal Hall of Fame. Fellow inductees were two dogs, Gucci and Muffin. The black tie awards dinner was held at the Embassy Suites Montgomery Hotel and Conference Center in Montgomery, Alabama.
Even though Matilda is no longer among the living, her legend is still very much alive. She will live forever not only in Mort's and Donna's hearts, but also the hearts of the many people whose lives she touched and continues to touch.
In describing Matilda, one of her fans said, "Matilda is a soul who just happens to be in a chicken's body." Mort and Donna could not agree more.
This page was designed and copyrighted in 2006 by Donna Barton.