Tales from the Duckmaster at The Peabody Memphis Hotel
What it's like to march ducks through the lobby of a luxury hotel.
The Duckmaster at The Peabody Memphis keeps four wild mallard ducks in a row, literally. Daily at 11:00am, the ducks leave their rooftop duck palace and enter the historic hotel’s elevator en route to the lobby where a red carpet and plenty of cameras await. Elevator doors open and the ducks march down a red carpet (celebrities that they are) and into the stunning marble fountain.
At 5:00 p.m., with all of the same crowd-gathering pomp and circumstance, the ducks wander out of the fountain and back into the elevator to nosh on lettuce and high-end bird chow for the rest of the evening.
They’ve done this every day since 1940.
History Of The Peabody Ducks
The Peabody actually first opened in 1869 in a different location and was the place to see and be seen until its closing in 1923. In 1925, the hotel opened in its current location and under new ownership. The impressive marble fountain that still graces the hotel lobby was cut from a single piece of travertine and shipped from Italy in time for the grand opening.
In 1930, the luxury hotel’s general manager had just returned from a hunting trip and thought it would be funny to leave some of his duck decoys (live English call ducks were used back then) in the ornate fountain. Yes, there was a bit of whiskey involved. But, guests loved the swimming ducks. The tradition of the Peabody Ducks was born and the English call ducks were eventually replaced with Mallards.
In 1940, one of the hotel bellman (who had been a circus trainer) offered to care for the ducks and teach them how to march through the lobby. His name was Edmund Pembroke and he served as the hotel’s very first Duckmaster for 50 years until 1991. The Peabody Duck March, to this day, is a big deal and draws crowds from all over Memphis and beyond. Get there early to secure prime viewing. Watching them march is every bit as cute as it sounds.
The Duckmaster Reveals All
I had a chance to chat with the current Peabody Duckmaster, Anthony Petrina. Anthony never thought that his degree in hotel management would land him in the prestigious role of Duckmaster. He had worked in the hotel’s Capriccio Grill and devised a plan to move up the ranks within the hotel over time.
Maybe prestigious is an understatement. Before Anthony was recruited for the Duckmaster position, there were somewhere along the lines of 800 applicants.
When not supervising the ducks and leading the march, Anthony participates in a great deal of community outreach on behalf of the hotel. The ducks do occasionally go on the road, appearing even on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
The Peabody Ducks are five North American Mallards: one male (green head) and four females that are born and raised on a farm near The Peabody Memphis. The ducks live at the luxury hotel for 3 months. Then, they are returned to the farm and released into the wild. Anthony says they hang around the edge of the farm for a bit and then eventually fly away.
Particularly noteworthy is that the fountain is smack in the middle of a busy lobby and bar area where plenty of food and drinks are served. The ducks show absolutely no interest in begging for bar nuts or people in general. The key, according to Anthony, is to treat the ducks like they’re wild animals. No one touches them unless it’s absolutely necessary. And, they don’t verbally domesticate them by giving them cute names.
Occasionally, when the hotel receives a new herd of ducks, a few go rogue. One year a duck made a beeline for the giant hotel Christmas tree which was lined with presents. When you don’t want to touch a duck it can be difficult to direct him or her out of a large, cluttered spot. The duck eventually hopped into one of the presents. Anthony picked up the box and carried the duck back upstairs to the palace amid bellows laughter, I’m sure.
Duck is absent from all of the hotel menus, which is particularly surprising because there aren’t many French restaurants in the world lacking a duck dish. And, the Peabody’s signature restaurant, Chez Philippe, is French!
An Ode To Ducks
Let’s just say that The Peabody Memphis has taken the duck theme and run (or waddled?) with it. From the soap in the bathroom to the actual hotel logo, you can’t miss it. The ducks add unbelievable charm to the historic hotel. Every President of the United States in office since the opening of the Peabody Memphis has stayed in the hotel. I will definitely return.