Chicken Little is not there, and neither are Humpty Dumpty, Col. Sanders or the owner of Holly Farms. But right under our beaks, in Beltsville, there sits one of the least known museums in the area: the National Poultry Hall of Fame.
Located on the 14th floor of the national Agriculture Library, the museum displays oil paintings and framed portraits of such worthies as the creator of the Chicken-of-Tomorrow Contest, the founder of the National Turkey Federation and the author of the Talking Turkey newsletter.
The American Poultry Historical Society chooses the enshrinees. According to its president, John Skinner, it's contributions to the poultry industry, not fame or fortune, that earn one a place. And that is why Col. Sanders is not now, and may never be, in Beltsville.
It is not because the chubby Southern gentleman hasn't made significant contributions to the poultry industry with his secret herbs and spices, but his contributions were primarily for self gain and "not solely for the love of the industry," Skinner says.
According to Skinner, who is a University of Wisconsin professor, the hall of fame has been honoring chicken and turkey industry greats for 24 years.
Skinner says his organizations, which chooses five honorees to the hall of fame every three years, has had trouble selecting current businessmen in the industry since their accomplishments, in areas of production, are often kept secret because of the competitive market.
Among the 32 individuals currently honored in the hall of fame are:
Kathryn B. Niles (1898-1970), who for 28 years created, tested and released to major U.S. media more than 10,000 recipes featuring new ways to use eggs, chicken and turkey.
Charles W.W Wampler (1885-), founder of the National Turkey Federation.
Dr. Ernest M. Funk (1889-), pioneer investigator of hatchability and the preservation of quality in eggs and egg products.
Stanley J. Marsden (1887-), a leader in developing the Beltsville Small White Turkey, which is a special breed of turkey that is cooked in homes across the country.
Recent visitors to the hall of fame may have been puzzled because portraits of the important figures in poultry history are only identified by brass nameplates that do not indicate their accomplishments.
Skinner explained that the curious visitor must be temporarily satisfied with a printed explanation of the honorees' achievements, now available at the reference desk of the agricultural library. He said his organization plans to detail the accomplishments of the honorees on small bronze plaques.
For the casual browser, the hall of fame's colorful posters give only a few sketchy details of poultry industry history. But those few facts might ruffle the feathers of poultry buffs.
There is an authentic 1936 poster of the world's fourth poultry congress, held in Germany.
There is a poster that depicts a farmer, with a wooden club in his hands, chasing a rooster. The caption reads: "Swat Him!" The poster instructs the farmer to kill roosters so the eggs will be infertile and thus last longger than fertile eggs in warm weather.
The museum is located just northeast of the Rte. 1 Beltway interchange. It is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission and parking are free. Further information is available at 344-3755.