Imagine living in a posh hotel suite in one of the classiest hotels in downtown Memphis. Imagine having your every whim catered to by specially hired employees. Imagine crowds of adoring fans flocking to see you make your grand entrance and exit from the suite each day. Are you a rock star? A famous politician? A Hollywood so-and-so? No, you are a duck.
A duck? Yes. In fact, you are one of the Peabody ducks. You are part of a more than 70 year old tradition of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. At present, four mallard hens and one mallard drake receive red carpet treatment twice a day, 365 days a year. Every morning at eleven, the quintet are escorted down to the lobby of the hotel in their own elevator by the regally attired Duck Master. A red carpet is rolled out for them to march, insofar as ducks march, from the elevator to the marble fountain in the lobby center while the King Cotton March plays overhead. Until 5:00 in the evening, these pampered ducks are left to preen, quack, splash and swim in the fountain to the delight of visitors. Then they are marched back down the red carpet to their elevator for a ride home to their suite, the Royal Duck Palace. It's a duck's life.
I learned about this eccentric event when my in-laws came for a visit four years ago. At first, I didn't believe it. We parked where I worked at the time and took the trolley down the Main Street Mall to the hotel to watch the ducks make their grand exit.
The Peabody has been a Memphis fixture for more than 130 years. Today, it is still a spectacular hotel as well as a mecca for entertainment and shopping. The lobby has an air of elegance one associates with 1930's Hollywood glamour. But what sets this place apart is definitely the Duck March.
But how did such an event come to be the crowd pleaser it is today? It began in the 1930's when the general manager of the Peabody Hotel Memphis, and a friend returned from a hunting trip. A bit too much Tennessee whiskey and a few live decoys led to the birth of a phenomenon. Initially done for laughs, having the ducks in the fountain proved such a draw for locals and tourists alike that they have become legend at the Peabody Hotels in Orlando and Little Rock as well. In fact, they are VIP Very Important Poultry. Their daily entrance and exit is performed with all the pomp and circumstance befitting royalty.
What began as a way to get a laugh is now serious business, drawing tourists from around the world. It costs nothing to watch the spectacle. If you come to Memphis to see the ducks, however, don't get too comfortable on the lobby sofas or spend too long in the gift shops. The crowd swells suddenly, beyond what many would imagine to watch a small flock of pampered ducks waddle to or from a fountain. One moment, the lobby is all but vacant; it will seem you have plenty of time to wander over toward the fountain. The next moment, you are caught up in a swell of camera-toting, child carrying people with the single-mindedness of rock groupies jockeying for the best view of their favorite star. Many go up to the second floor balcony for a bird's eye view, if you will.
The entire event takes only minutes. And the crowd disperses almost as quickly as it appeared. Happy children grasp their plastic duck pins, which are handed out to all spectators. Tourists mark the ducks off their list of things to see and move on to the next attraction. But if you enjoy an eccentric event, you will leave with more than a pin. You will leave with a sense of having witnessed part of the quirkiness that is Memphis.