MEMPHIS, TN — The tradition of the famous Peabody Marching Ducks began in 1933. Peabody General Manager Frank Schutt, an avid sportsman, and a friend Chip Barwick, returned empty-handed from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas. The two friends had a bit too much Jack Daniel’s Tennessee sippin’ whiskey, and decided to play a prank and put their live duck decoys (which were legal at the time) in the fountain in the hotel’s Grand Lobby.
Three English call ducks were placed in the fountain, and the reaction from hotel guests was nothing short of enthusiastic. Soon, five North American Mallard ducks would replace the original ducks. 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 famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke became the Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity for 50 years until his retirement in 1991. The late Mr. Pembroke’s portrait hangs in the entrance to The Peabody, a luxury suite is named for him and a building in Peabody Place development is named Pembroke Square.
Today, The Peabody Ducks are led by Duckmaster Kenon Walker. Walker joins an elite group of distinguished gentlemen to don the scarlet-and-gold-trimmed jacket and carry the brass duck cane. The Duckmaster is solely responsible for the care and wellbeing of the Peabody Ducks, including feeding, exercise, and training the teams for their daily march. When not tending to the five North American mallards, Walker acts as a hospitality ambassador for the “South’s Grand Hotel,” greeting guests in the Grand Lobby, conducting history tours, and making media and community appearances. In many ways, the Duckmaster is the public face of The Peabody.
The ducks are housed in the “Royal Duck Palace” on the hotel’s rooftop. Every day at 11 a.m., they are led by the Duckmaster down the elevator to the Italian travertine marble fountain in the Peabody Grand Lobby. A red carpet is unrolled and the ducks march through crowds of admiring spectators to the tune of John Philip Sousa’s King Cotton March as camera flashes light up the lobby. The ceremony is reversed at 5 p.m., when the ducks retire for the evening to their rooftop palace.
The Peabody’s famed ambassadors are five North American Mallard ducks – one drake with his white collar and green head, and four hens with less colorful plumage. The ducks have been raised on a local farm by the same family and friends of the hotel for more than 35 years. Each team lives in the hotel for only three months before being retired from their Peabody duties and returned to the farm to live out the remainder of their days as wild ducks. (For more information, please visit https://www.peabodymemphis.com/)