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Crown Cruise Vacations | October 22, 2020

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Peabody Hotel Celebrating 150th Anniversary

Peabody Hotel Celebrating 150th Anniversary
Jackie Sheckler Finch

As duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Doug Weatherford has no doubts who is boss. After trailing the fowl on their daily march to the elevator, Weatherford acknowledges the obvious.

“The ducks don’t actually follow me,” he admitted. “They lead me.”

At 11 each morning, the ducks step to John Philip Sousa’s “King Cotton March” along a red carpet from their rooftop Royal Duck Palace to the famous travertine marble fountain in the Grand Lobby.

There they splash and preen until 5 p.m., when the procession reverses and the ducks retire for the evening to their rooftop abode. Visitors are invited to watch the free spectacle and to visit the rooftop for one of the best views of Memphis.

Now celebrating its 150th anniversary, the Peabody Hotel has drawn presidents, dignitaries, entertainers and other folks from all walks of life.

“The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel,” Mississippi historian David Cohn once wrote.

“If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby … ultimately you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta.”

Opened in 1869 by Robert Campbell Brinkley on the corner of Main and Monroe in downtown Memphis, the original hotel was named in honor of Brinkley’s recently deceased friend. George Peabody. The original hotel was torn down and a new larger Peabody was built at its present location at Union Avenue and Second Street, opening in 1925.

The “South’s Grand Hotel” is known for its history, charm, gracious Southern hospitality and twice-daily Duck Marches. The Peabody is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Mobil 4-Star and AAA 4-Diamond property.

The role of duckmaster originated at the Peabody Memphis more than 70 years ago. “The whole thing started as a practical joke,” Weatherford said.

Back in 1933, Frank Schutt, general manager of the Peabody, and a friend, Chip Barwick, returned empty-handed from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas.

“They had had a little too much Jack Daniel’s sipping whiskey and thought it would be funny to sneak some of their live duck decoys into the lobby fountain. That’s back when you were allowed to have live duck decoys,” Weatherford said. “That’s what they did. Then they went up to their room to sleep it off.”

When they came down the next morning, the two men were shocked. “They were surprised because the ducks were still there,” Weatherford said. “And they were surprised to see a huge crowd watching the ducks.”

Thus began a Peabody tradition.

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. Pembroke became The Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity for 50 years until his retirement in 1991.

The five mallards are always four females and one male. More than one male might cause turf problems, Weatherford said. An uneven number of females might make the lady mallards turn on the odd duck.

Every day, a multitude of visitors line up for both the morning and evening march. Weatherford patiently recounts the tale, unrolls the red carpet and makes sure no guests are in between the fountain and the elevator when the ducks are ready to roll.

To celebrate its 150th anniversary, the Peabody has crafted its own version of the classic Tom Collins cocktail, which was first created the same decade as the Peabody first opened its doors.

The John Collins is best sipped in the Peabody Lobby but here is the recipe to try at home.

                                    Peabody 150th Anniversary John Collins

1 ¼ ounces Bols Genever

1 ¼ ounces fresh lemon juice

1 ¼ ounces simple syrup

Club soda or sparkling water

Lemon wedge for garnish

Shake together the Genever, lemon juice and simple syrup, then pour over fresh ice in a Collins glass. Garnish with lemon slice.

Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch, Photos courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch and the Peabody Hotel.