The Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee is famous in many ways as a local landmark, but the one thing that stands out above all others are its ducks that swim in the lobby fountain. This started as a lark, and (perhaps regrettably, for some hotel guests) has turned into a packed-house spectacle for tourists, with shows twice daily. The tradition has become very widely known as The Peabody trademark, and accordingly, the hotel does not allow any duck dish to be on their restaurants' menus.

The ducks were introduced to The Peabody in the 1930s. General Manager Frank Schutt left to go duck hunting in Arkansas one weekend, and his friends thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legal back then for hunters to use live decoys) in The Peabody fountain as a joke for when he returned. When the three English call ducks were let loose, they were met with great enthusiasm by the hotel guests and employees. Ducks have been swimming in the fountain every day since.

In 1940, a bellhop named Edward Pembroke volunteered to care for the ducks. A former circus animal trainer, Pembroke taught them to waddle in procession into the lobby, initiating the famous "March." Pembroke was named Duckmaster, and served in that position until his death in 1991. Today, the mallards are cared for by a local farmer, and live in the lavish "Duck Palace" on The Peabody's Plantation Roof.

Every day at 11AM, they are led by the ceremonial Duckmaster down the elevator to the Italian Travertine marble fountain in the Grand Lobby. Red carpet is unrolled, and the music of John Philip Sousa begins to play from overhead speakers as the elevator descends. One might expect to see the ducks emerge slowly, marching majestically through crowds of admiring spectators to the tune of "King Cotton March" and flash photography. In reality, the ducks are so used to being harassed by onlookers that they race out of the elevator and dart towards the fountain. The fanfare is repeated at 5PM when the ducks retire to their rooftop palace.

Source information: peabodymemphis.com • mgog.net • fodors.com

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