There is a poultry farm near Greensboro, MD whose property was once covered with wild pink roses; Eglantine roses. One would picture the farm to be a beautiful place to grow up; wild roses, soft fragrance, open farm land, and some of the prettiest farm animals on the shore. Peggy and Sheldon Lewis grew up on Eglantine Farm. Their farm was better known for its one, single, award winning chicken than for its beautiful surroundings and surplus of roses.
Lady Eglantine called Eglantine Farms her home. The Lewis family still talks about Lady and tells stories of her induction into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1915. Today, Lady Eglantine is stuffed and on display at the Caroline County Historical Society’s Museum of Rural Life.
Lady Eglantine was a famous chicken from the Eastern Shore of Maryland that was known all over the world. She held, and currently still holds, the world record for laying the most eggs in one year.
The white Leghorn chicken laid a whopping 314 eggs in just 365 days. Lady Eglantine was owned by Addison A. Christian, a Philadelphian who built a summer home in Greensboro in 1905. He developed experimental farms as a hobby during the summer months and worked at Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia during the rest of the year.
Christian experimentally improved the breed of white Leghorn chickens and they laid many, many eggs.
In September of 1915, the world record for most eggs laid by a chicken was 286 eggs. That month, Lady Eglantine broke the record by laying 288 eggs. Typically, chickens only lay 70 eggs per year. They live about three years long. Throughout the life of a hen, about 200 eggs are laid. Lady Eglantine laid 60% more eggs than an average chicken produces per year.
The year before a Columbian Plymouth Rock named Columbian Queen had set the record.
“Lady Eglantine, like a champion racehorse, soon became a prized breeding commodity, earning the title of “the $100,000 hen.” A victory parade was held in her honor, with motorcycle escort en route to a reception at the Hotel Walton,” wrote William Grimes in his book, My Fine Feathered Friend, published in 2002.
Many folks made offers to purchase Christian’s prized chicken. Christian obce refused a $3,500 offer for his chicken just one week after the Philadelphia show. Other offers came in and she was soon known as the $100,000 hen. In the following weeks after winning the title as “Hen Who Laid the Most Eggs in One Year”, she was the featured chicken at the Poultry Show at the Grand Central Palace in New York City.
She traveled to the NYC Palace in an elaborately decorated car and stayed in a coop covered in pink roses and American flags. She was escorted by a squad of motorcycle-riding policemen. Crowds of hundreds greeted her and applauded her egg-laying feats.
Her eggs were sold for $60 each. Normal eggs only cost 20 cents per dozen at the time.
On Valentine’s Day of 1916, the Mayor of New York presented the chicken with a diamond-studded gold leg band as she was ‘married’ to a prize-winning rooster. The rooster was of highest lineage and from a line of record-laying hens.
“Lady Eglantine and her entourage, which arrived here in a special Pullman car with a whole lot of pomp and ceremony last Tuesday, returned to her Maryland home last night in an ordinary freight car. Her egg activities will hardly be resumed, as she is to be a ‘show girl’ for some time to come, in the chain of poultry shows which started at the Grand Central Palace last Tuesday.” As published in the New York Times on December 12th, 1915.
Just seven months after arriving home in MD, on Aug. 6, 1916, Lady Eglantine passed away. It’s said that Christian explained to the media that exhibition exhaustion and molting were the cause of the beloved chicken’s death. Her death was announced in national newspapers.
Peggy Lewis Smith and Sheldon Lewis came onto ownership of the stuffed chicken because it was deeded to the farm when they purchased the property.
Peggy once carried the stuffed chicken to school for show and tell. That’s how she earned her nickname “Chicken Lewis”. Peggy now lives in Denton, MD and works for the Caroline County Treasurer’s Office. Her daughter also carried Lady Eglantine to school for show and tell once. Sheldon retired from a career with Perdue Corporation where he worked as a chicken geneticist. Imagine that.
It’s believed that Lady Eglantine’s diamond gold leg band was removed before she was stuffed and the diamonds were set in custom-made rings produced just for the two daughters of Christian.