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Featherweight Champions: The Annual World Chicken Festival, London, Laurel County, Kentucky

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.
(Photo: Susana Raab)

(Photo: Susana Raab)

  • The annual World Chicken Festival takes place in Laurel County, Kentucky, in honor of KFC founder Colonel Harland Sanders, who opened his first chicken shop there in the early 1940s. One of the festival’s main attractions is a 10-foot-wide, eight-foot-deep skillet that can cook 600 quarters of chicken at a time.
  • In 1964, Sanders, then age 74, reluctantly sold his stake in KFC for $2 million to his attorney, John Brown Jr. The Colonel started appearing on popular TV programs, including I’ve Got a Secret and The Tonight Show, clad in his trademark white suit, sometimes pushing a chicken cage filled with $2 million in cash.
  • Brown sold his own stake in the company for $285 million in 1971 and became governor of Kentucky in 1979, shortly after marrying a Miss America winner.
  • Laurel County has about 60,000 residents. The county median household income averaged $36,570 from 2009 to 2013. Over the same time period, the United States median household income averaged $53,046.
  • Laurel County allows the sale of alcohol only in sit-down restaurants, one drink at a time.
  • According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, there were 9,206 meth “incidents”—meaning discoveries of labs, dump sites, and equipment—across the U.S. in 2014. Kentucky generated 435 of them, or nearly five percent.
  • Research on methamphetamine suggests that the drug is not as addictive as commonly thought. In a 2012 study, meth addicts given the choice of a large hit of meth (provided by the researchers) or $5 in cash were about as likely to choose the cash as the meth. When the sum went up to $20, the majority of addicts chose the cash.
  • Researchers at Stanford University interviewed athletes and coaches and concluded that boxing’s physical intimacy produces a sense of “at-homeness” among fighters. One of the most salient effects of boxing, according to fighters, is the closeness that develops between boxers in the ring.
  • Most studies of boys and girls in the Western world show a significant gender gap in the desire to engage in most sorts of competition. However, a 2015 study of boys and girls ages seven to 16 in post-Soviet Armenia found comparable levels of eagerness to compete across multiple physical and intellectual tasks.
  • Live animals are not permitted at the World Chicken Festival, per London, Kentucky, City Ordinance Number 2012-01.

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