I wrote about Fred Ghostley of Anoka, MN in my book Open Window: The Lake Julia TB Sanatorium, a Community Created by Tuberculosis. Fred graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1909 after marrying another med student, Mary Chapman. She went on to be the well-known and highly respected Dr. Mary Ghostley, the TB professional who ran the Lake Julia Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Puposky for many years.
George Ghostley, Fred’s brother, also graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School, but he took his medical training in a different direction, as told in this article reprinted by permission of its author, June Gossler Anderson.
Dr. George Ghostley, who built a world-renowned chicken business in and around Anoka, wasn’t just your average run-of-the-mill chicken farmer. His goal was to develop a superior strain of leghorns, chickens that would be both disease resistant and fantastic layers. This is where his medical knowledge of genetics came to bear. It might be called intelligent design, for starting with one strain of white leghorn, he experimented in crossing improved strains with his own to produce a hybrid chicken that performed better than either strain. This process was repeated over and over many times until, according to the Minneapolis Star, he produced hens that laid an average of 300 to 352 eggs per year each. The industry standard for hen certification was 200 eggs per year.
According to a 1955 article in the Minneapolis Star, the poultry industry was being threatened by a disease that was costing them 50 million dollars a year. The disease, a complex of cancer-like ailment also known as “big liver disease,” was leucosis, the industry’s No. 1 killer. While the USDA was working on a vaccine to thwart the disease, Ghostley’s goal was to develop genetic resistance in his flock by inoculating birds with the leucosis virus, hoping to pass resistance along to the offspring.
“That’s the only way poultry breeders have ever made significant advances in improving their strains,” Dr. Ghostley explained.
At the height of his poultry business, Ghostley had 25,000 chickens with a 350,000 capacity incubators operating 24/7, 365 days a year and was selling breeding stock to several foreign countries. About that time, Ghostley thought he should be considering a name to brand his chicken operation, so he decided to have a naming contest. Arch Pease, editor of the Anoka Union, came up with the winner, Ghostley Pearl, in honor of George’s wife, Pearl. It helped that the name also described the color of its distinctive egg shell.
The 1955 Minneapolis Star article describes Ghostely’s chicken business as “a highly specialized poultry plant that includes the main farm two miles southeast of Anoka on highway 10, the nearby 900 acre range where 263 Hereford steers are now being fed to utilize excess alfalfa and corn grown to provide feed and shade for the chickens, and an 80 acre place near Osseo where experimental work is carried on.”
“We’ve been criticized for operating on too large a scale, thus making it tough on the small poultryman, but we believe we are helping the industry by carrying on intensive breeding and research programs,” said Ghostley in a quote from the article. “Without income from large-scale operations this would be impossible.”
According to Lyle Bradley, George Ghostley also dabbled in the flora side of genetics. He was well-known, mostly in Europe, for his genetic research with irises.
Pearl Ghostley died in 1961 and her husband followed her to the grave in Forest Hill Cemetery in Anoka four years later. During his lifetime, Ghostley was a member of the Minnesota Livestock Sanitary Board and in the early 1960s he was elected to the Poultry Hall of Fame. His portrait hangs “somewhere in Washington, D.C.” Shortly before Ghostley’s death, Ghostley’s Poultry Farms Inc. was presented the U.S. Department of Commerce’s E award by Secretary of Commerce Luther Hodges and cited for doing “an excellent job” in promoting export business.
Ghostley’s death in 1965 marked the end of Ghostley’s Poultry Farms as well. It went out of business in 1968 and the last henhouse was demolished in 1975. Even though the henhouses are gone, it’s safe to say that for a few decades of its history Anoka was the Chicken Capital of the World.
June Gossler Anderson has written 10 books, including Digging up the Past, and all are available at https://www.Amazon.com. She classifies several of her books as “history with a paranormal twist.” Anderson also teaches a community ed class titled “How to Publish Your Book and Not Go Broke.” She offers power-point presentations to senior facilities via Zoom or YouTube. Her virtual programs include An Armchair Ghost Tour of Anoka; Tracking Dracula thru Ireland, England, and Transylvania; Minnesota Recipients of the Medal of Honor; Haunting and History of the Emerald Isle; and Christmas in Kracow.