<a Sometimes if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck – in the Peabody Hotel lobby fountain. Four to be exact and always one male and three females who spend several months living the honour of being Peabody mascots, and source of the company’s branding. There’s only three Peabody Hotels in the world and if you’re ever in Orlando, Florida; Little Rock, Arkansas; or Memphis, Tennessee (the original), stop by at 11am or 5pm and watch the daily march of the ducks down a red carpet from their Duck Palace enclosure on the third floor to their afternoon social time in the hotel lobby fountain.
It’s quite a production – short lived but entertaining, involving a brief history lesson, classical music, a red carpet and a Duck Master. Yes, an official red coated gold trimmed Duck Master (a title trademarked by the Peabody) is in charge of the ducks and he’s the one who recruits honourary Duck Masters each morning to help with the production while visitors snap pics fast and furious. The ducks don’t spend their entire lives in the lobby, but retire to a farm after five months at the hotel. So every few months, a new team are trained to march (run, really) from the elevator, down the carpet, up the stairs and into the water where good snacks await.
It’s an age old story: what started with a drunken impulse that seemed like a good idea at the time, turned out to be very popular. In the 1930s, Peabody General Manager Frank Schutt and friend Chip Barwick returned from an unsuccessful hunting trip and thought it would be funny to put their live duck decoys (legal at the time) in the hotel fountain. In the morning, the response was surprisingly enthusiastic, and in 1940 a bellman with circus training added the pomp and circumstance as a twist. (He would remain Duck Master until his retirement in 1991.) Today, there’s only three Duck Masters, and only one named Donald. He’s at the thirty-year-old contemporary Peabody Hotel in Orlando, not the 100-year-old Memphis original, but the genuine appreciation for this charming tradition is timeless.
This article originally appeared in Mom & Caregiver Oct. 2012