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Georgia voters say no to building one of the world's largest chicken-shaped topiary

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's a giant chicken that looms over a small city in South Georgia. The shape of a giant beak rises above the trees. Fitzgerald, Ga. - population 9,053 - set out to construct a chicken that would be the largest topiary in the world.

JIM PUCKETT: So right now it just looks like a 64-foot-tall skeleton of a chicken. We'll plant the topiary, hopefully - the plants - into late February. It'll take about a year for everything to grow in.

SIMON: Jim Puckett is mayor of Fitzgerald and owner of Puckett's Place Hometown Diner. He says the chicken weighs 19 1/2 tons - all solid U.S. steel.

PUCKETT: We're about 20 minutes off the interstate. So I need a billboard out there that says, hey, this way - world's largest topiary chicken. And you might drive by it once. But you - I don't think you'll drive by that twice without saying, hey, it's only 20 minutes. Let's go check this out.

SIMON: The topiary chicken has been Jim Puckett's passion project. As mayor, he steered at least $300,000, raised via special local sales tax, into the topiary. That's not just chicken feed. I'm sorry, but you just can't expect us to get through this story without a fowl pun or two, nor a reference to BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music. It seems that wild chickens were released near Fitzgerald decades ago. But you know what can happen to chickens on farms, don't you? So they flocked to the city.

PUCKETT: These wild Burmese chickens ended up migrating to Fitzgerald and have made their home here, so much so that you go downtown to Main Street, pull up at a red light, and you're very likely to see a family of chickens cross in front of you.

SIMON: But why did the chicken cross the - ah, never mind. Mayor Puckett really wanted tourists to cross the road and stay a night at the B&B inside the giant chicken topiary. Voters did not share his vision.

JASON HOLT: My name is Jason Holt. I have been elected mayor of the city of Fitzgerald and take office January 10.

SIMON: The incoming mayor says this month's election turned out to be a giant chicken referendum.

HOLT: There was a lot of - animosity's not the right word. But the community was not happy that funds were spent on it.

HOLT: But what will Mayor Holt now do with the nearly 20-ton steel chicken that rises above the town's cityscape?

HOLT: In the words of the home remodeling - at this point, it has good bones (laughter). The structure is there.

SIMON: And it is Fitzgerald's own.

HOLT: We're kind of too far into it to tear it down and bury the ashes. Although there is a faction in the community that wants to do that. But then you really have wasted $300,000. So we've got to come together and try to decide what we want it to be going forward.

SIMON: Jason Holt envisions an art installation where students from local colleges can freshen up the bird every few years.

What does outgoing Mayor Jim Puckett say to those who voted him out over the gargantuan chicken?

PUCKETT: I want to shake them and say, hey, we've been on the front page of the Wall Street Journal twice in four years because of this silly chicken. I'm doing an interview with NPR right now because of this silly chicken. It's doing exactly what we want it to do.

SIMON: He sees the town wire chicken as his legacy and says someone told him...

PUCKETT: There's a lot of people that want to leave their mark on the town. He said, you darn sure did that. Nobody can take that away from you, ever.

SIMON: To paraphrase the bard - not the barnyard - the Fitzgerald chicken doth bestride the narrow world like a colossus. And we petty people peep about.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIMMY LAVALLE'S "THE OUTER BANKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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