Back in 1933 Frank Schutt, General Manager of The Peabody, and a friend returned from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas full of too much Tennessee sippin’ whiskey and thought it would be funny to deposit some of their live duck decoys in the hotel fountain. As a result three small English call ducks spent the night swimming in the lobby while their owners snored away in their beds. By morning the reaction of the other hotel guests was nothing short of enthusiastic and voila, a now-famous Memphis tradition was born.
Bellman Edward Pembroke took things a step further a few years later when he offered to help deliver the ducks to the fountain each morning. A former animal trainer with the circus, Pembroke brought considerable flair to bear on the ceremony, ushering the drake and four consorts from their rooftop aerie, down a red carpet, and into the lobby fountain to the delight of those who soon began gathering to witness the Peabody Duck March. The original ducks have long since gone. So, too, Mr. Pembroke, who for 50 years held the honorific of Duckmaster until his retirement. Yet after more than 75 years the ceremony continues – and the lobby fountain daily hosts a quintet of Memphis’ famous feathered friends. A local farmer and friend of the hotel now raises the mallards. They live in a Duck Palace atop the hotel and once fully-grown are retired and returned to the wild. A few lucky ducks guests such as myself are tapped each day to serve as Honorary Duckmaster and assist with stewarding the most famous ducks since Donald. Trust me: it’s everything it’s quacked up to be – and then some.