Friday, October 18, 2013

The Peabody Ducks

The Peabody Hotel is the Memphis version of New York City's Waldorf Astoria - a traditionally classic luxury hotel that stands out as an icon against an ever changing landscape of increasingly modern style properties.

Of course, while it's often nice to walk through the lobby of these grandiose properties for photos and glimpses of history, my parents do indeed favor the more contemporary hotels with more technologically advanced amenities.

But one thing that the Peabody has that the Westin will never is the world famous march of the ducks. According to the Peabody Hotel's website:
Back in the 1930s Frank Schutt, General Manager of The Peabody, and a friend, Chip Barwick, returned from a weekend hunting trip to Arkansas.  
The men had a little too much Jack Daniel's Tennessee sippin' whiskey, and thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legal then for hunters to use live decoys) in the beautiful Peabody fountain. Three small English call ducks were selected as "guinea pigs," and the reaction was nothing short of enthusiastic. Soon, five North American Mallard ducks would replace the original ducks.  
In 1940, Bellman Edward Pembroke, a former circus animal trainer, offered to help with delivering the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the now-famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke became the Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity for 50 years until his retirement in 1991. The original ducks have long since gone, but after nearly 80 years, the marble fountain in the hotel lobby is still graced with ducks. The Peabody ducks march at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.
So no trip to Memphis would be complete without at least one visit to the Peabody Duck March. My first failed attempt was Saturday afternoon just before 5PM. We happened to be walking past the Peabody Hotel just as the ducks were going to return back to their penthouse suite, so we tried to get a peek last minute. Unfortunately, the lobby area was already very crowded, and I was in no mood to wait around, so I started crying hysterically. My mother and I just gave up and returned to my father who was patiently waiting by the doors with the stroller.

But the next morning, my father knew we needed to arrive early and stake out our positions. Even though we arrived around 10:20AM on a Sunday morning, all the lobby chairs and tables were occupied. Fortunately, there was still plenty of standing room along the red carpet where the ducks would walk across as they came out of the elevator towards the lobby fountain. By 10:40 AM, the area was full and kids were allowed to sit on the floor alongside the carpet.

Remember that we originally arrived at 10:20 AM. By the time it reached 10:59, I had been sitting there waiting for almost 40 minutes. For many adults, that would be long. For New Yorkers, that would be a lifetime. But for a soon to be 2 year old, it was an eternity. I was pretty much freaking out from boredom and crying loud enough to bother those around me. Unfortunately, there wasn't much my parents could do to console me. Each of their attempts was soundly rebuffed as I threw their bottles, toys, candy and smartphones on the ground in frustration and spite.

Fortunately, however, the elevator doors opened and I saw my feathered friends sprinting along the red carpet past me and into the fountain. Despite my father being 100% Asian, he wasn't able to get a good photo of the ducks racing past him. In fact, he pulled the trigger too early and by the time the camera reset itself, the ducks had already made it to the fountain.

But I forgave him since I was happy to see ducks so close. We then got to go near the fountain and take some photos of them swimming around and around.

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