Waddle this way – to one of the most unique experiences one can have in Memphis, Tennessee – the coveted role as the Honorary Duckmaster at the famous Peabody Hotel. I myself was the honorary Duckmaster in 2003, and is still one of my fondest memories. Now so many years later, we were ecstatic to learn that the experience is still going strong, and that we would be able to relive the experience with our young duck-loving son. Special, unique, and full of webbed feet – there is absolutely nothing else like this experience – it needs to be immediately placed on your bucket list.
Photo Credit: The Peabody Memphis
Stepping into History – Exploring the Peabody
The Peabody Hotel is a southern institution, and is renown for its Southern hospitality and breathtaking style. The only historic hotel in Memphis – it is one to visit to gaze upon its Italian Renaissance Revival architecture. Aside from the beauty – location here at the Peabody is everything! The 13 story hotel is In the heart of downtown Memphis, just two blocks from the Beale Street, the Rock N Soul Museum, Gibson Guitar Factory, and the famous FedEx Forum Arena.
A Duck Tale – The History of the Peabody Ducks
A duck tale that goes back decades, the Peabody ducks have been famously swimming in the hotel’s lobby for over 80 years. The feathery tradition started in 1933, when General Manager Frank Schutt returned from a weekend hunting trip, and thought it would be humorous to leave some of their live duck decoys (which were legal at the time) in the hotel’s lobby fountain. The ducks were a delight to the hotel guests, and have been in the fountain each day since. In 1940, Bellman Edward Pembroke, who was formerly a circus animal trainer, volunteered to care for the ducks and taught them to march into the lobby. The famous Peabody Duck March was born.
Photo Credit: The Peabody Memphis
The Peabody Duckmaster
The Peabody Duckmaster is a coveted, highly respected position at the hotel. The Duckmaster not only is responsible for the care and well-being of the Peabody Ducks, including feeding and training the duck teams for their daily marches, he is also regarded as the hotel’s historian. The Duckmaster conducts hotel history tours, is the keeper of the hotel’s memorabilia, and is the ambassador of the hotel through media interviews and community appearances. An all-around ambassador to not only the hotel, but to the city of Memphis.
The current Duckmaster is Jimmy Ogle, and is the hotel’s 6th Duckmaster in its history. We had the honor of meeting Jimmy – he is amazing. He is passionate about Memphis, prides himself on southern hospitality, and knows absolutely everything about the Peabody Hotel’s history. His knowledge and grandeur is one not to miss if you are ever in Memphis.
There’s a long list of famous honorary Duckmasters that include Oprah Winfrey, Patrick Swayze, Florence Henderson, Emeril Lagasse, Peter Frampton, Joan Collins, George Hamilton, Molly Ringwald, Gene Simmons, Larry King, Kevin Bacon, and many (many!) more.
Our honorary Duckmaster
An Experience not to Miss
No need to be a celebrity – the Peabody offers Duckmaster experience packages for your family! You can have yourself, your child or your whole family up close and aid the Duckmaster with the famous march of the ducks. The cutely named “Ducky Day Package” includes the Honorary Duckmaster experience – where you help the Duckmaster march the Peabody Ducks to/from the Lobby Fountain, an official brass-head Duckmaster Cane, Peabody Duckmaster collectible rubber duck toy, a Duck cookie, and more!
Our duck-loving son couldn’t wait for this honorary event!
Getting ready!The bustling scene from our seat!
Front Row Seat
Family of the Honorary Duckmaster are given a designated table in the Hotel’s lobby, so they can easily watch the ceremony. The table is marked with a sign, and is located directly next to the fountain. The large lobby, often referred to as “Memphis’s living room” was a sea of visitors excited to watch the popular event. The standing room only crowd watched from both the ground level as well as the 2nd floor balcony.
Presentation of the certificateAnd the cane! The cane is almost the same size as our little guy!
The Peabody Duck Ceremony
Led by the Duckmaster Himself – the short ceremony engages the visitors before the ducks march from the fountain to the palace. The ceremony starts with a bit of interesting history on the ducks and the hotel. The Honorary Duckmaster for the day is called to join the procession near the fountain, and is presented with a certificate and cane.
Quite a bill to fill – our little Duckmaster in training!
March of the Ducks
The Peabody Duck March has become a daily tradition that has made the hotel quite famous. At 11 a.m., the Peabody Ducks march from their rooftop Royal Duck Palace along a red carpet to the grand fountain in the center of the lobby. The ducks splash and play in the fountain until 5 p.m., when the procession reverses and the ducks retire for the evening at the Duck Palace on the roof.
We chose the 5:00pm march, and would be leading the ducks back up to the rooftop Duck Palace.
Here come the ducks!Helping the ducks onto the elevatorSharing the ride with our feathery friends!Out to the roof of the building!On the way to their palace!The crowds cheer!
The ducks consist of five North American mallards. Raised by a local farmer, the ducks do not have individual names, as they are not domesticated and are considered wild. Each team of ducks only live in the hotel for three months before being retired from their Peabody duties, when they are returned to live out the remainder of their days in their natural wild habitat.
This way to the palace!Safe in their home!
A Royal Palace
When the ducks are not in the fountain, they live in their Royal Duck Palace, which is located on the hotel’s rooftop. The $200,000 structure is made of marble and glass, and consists of a space larger than most NYC apartments! The palace features a fountain decorated with a pair of bronze ducks, a small house for the ducks which is a scale replica of the hotel, and a grassy “front yard.” The Palace features a large viewing window, where guests of the hotel and visitors alike can visit the roof and see the famous ducks in their palace for free.
After the duck duties – a photo opp with our new friend Jimmy!
Peabody Hotel Fun Facts
With such a historic hotel – there is a number of fun facts to tell. Here we share our favorites:
- Out of respect to the hotel’s famous feathery friends – duck is not served anywhere at The Peabody and has not been seen on the hotel’s menus since its 1981 reopening.
- Game On: The Peabody Ducks were included in the 2009 edition of Trivial Pursuit with the question: “What can you find in the fountain at The Peabody Memphis but not on the hotel’s menus?” The hotel was also the subject of a question on the game show Jeopardy in 1994.
- Among the hotel’s notable retailers is Lansky’s at The Peabody. Shop founder Bernard J. Lansky is a legend for being the personal tailor to Elvis Presley, becoming known as the “Clothier to the King.” The store is a must visit – and is filled with memorabilia and some of the coolest clothing you’ll find in Memphis.
- Singer/Songwriter Neil Diamond wrote one his biggest hits, “Sweet Caroline,” at The Peabody in the late 1960s while recording his album “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” at American Sound Studio in Memphis.
- The Peabody Marching Ducks have appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Sesame Street, The Oprah Winfrey Show, in People magazine and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
- The Peabody served as the setting for several scenes in The Firm, the 1993 film starring Tom Cruise that was based on John Grisham’s best-selling novel of the same name.
Photo Credit: The Peabody Memphis
Tips for your visit:
- The lobby becomes quite busy – especially on weekends. Plan accordingly, and do your best to arrive very early if possible. The lobby area has limited seating that fills fast.
- Children can sit directly next to the red carpet – just get there 30 minutes or earlier before the area gets roped off.
- Don’t forget to head to the roof to check out the duck palace, as well as the marvelous view of the Memphis skyline.
- Check out the onsite bakery for duck cookies as well as a selection of duck pastries that are sure to delight any craving for an after the march treat.
- The gift store has the largest (and cutest!) selection of duck gifting items you’ll ever see. A must visit.
- When exiting the hotel to the street – be sure to look down at the sidewalk by your feet! The Peabody’s Duck Walk Hall of Fame was created in 1996 to recognize those who have made significant contributions to downtown Memphis (one of them is our favorite – Elvis!)
- The role of being the Honorary Peabody Duckmaster is a once in a lifetime experience that cannot be missed. Details available HERE. Note: Children must be 5 years of age to participate.
Don’t waddle on by the Peabody Walk of Fame outside!
The Peabody Memphis. 149 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN. Website HERE.