Memphis’s Peabody Hotel is the quintessential historic grand downtown hotel. The spectacular lobby, complete with carved ceilings, marble columns, and stained glass, more than holds its own against the grandest hotels of the world. Combine the Four-Star, AAA, Four-Diamond luxury with historic charm and southern hospitality (not to mention the perfect downtown location), and you’d already be hard pressed to find a reason not to want to stay here—but the Peabody has something that you truly won’t find in any other hotel: Ducks.
That’s right: five adorable, talented ducks who march every day through the majestic lobby to bathe in the travertine marble fountain. Housed in the Royal Duck Palace on the hotel’s rooftop, the North American Mallards are cared for by the hotel’s Duckmaster, an important and esteemed position held by only five different people in the more than 80 years since the tradition began. Current Duckmaster, 25-year-old Anthony Petrina, took some time away from his duties to tell us about the ducks, the hotel, and his passion for both.
As a Memphis native, after studying Hospitality at the University of Memphis, Petrina knew he wanted to work at the Peabody. He got his foot in the door as a waiter in the steakhouse and was quickly climbing the corporate ladder when the Duckmaster position became available. “I had already volunteered to march the ducks part time if they ever needed me,” says Petrina, “but nothing came of that until they, knowing I was already interested, called me in for an interview. I have been doing, and loving, my job ever since.”
Although his hours are more or less the regular 9 to 5, Petrina’s work space is everything but standard. The Royal Duck Palace is “a $200,000 granite lined penthouse with a custom bronze duck fountain, grassy front lawn, sun deck, view of the city, miniature version of the hotel to sleep in, and, of course, butler service (that’s me).” He starts his days greeting the ducks and making sure they’re ready for their 11am march, when he proudly escorts them from their penthouse to the elevator. A red carpet greets them in the lobby and stretches to the fountain where, after their stroll to John Phillip Sousa’s “King Cotton March,” they spend the day swimming, eating, and playing until the ceremony is reversed at 5pm.
In addition to the guests of the hotel’s 464 rooms, the Peabody attracts hundreds of travelers, tourists, and locals each day who come to spend time in the lobby (it’s been called Memphis’s living room) and see the ducks. Countless celebrities of all types stop by too, many of whom have had the honor of being named Honorary Duckmaster. “Officially inducted during the ceremony, we have marched ducks with Kevin Bacon, Patrick Swayze, Oprah Winfrey, Gene Simmons, Peter Frampton, Queen Noor of Jordan, and Elmo, Bert, and Ernie just to name a few,” says Petrina.
There’s no question, the ducks are the stars of the hotel, but although they get the royal treatment, they are not domesticated or treated as pets. Each team of ducks only lives at the Peabody for three months — they are raised by a local farmer and friend of the hotel, and after they retire from their tenure, they return to the farm and are free to live as wild ducks. The Peabody also shows its respect by keeping duck off the menus of the various hotel restaurants and bars. Chez Phillip is quite possibly the world’s only French restaurant that doesn’t serve duck.
Petrina describes the atmosphere of the Peabody as historic and old world, and says that he regularly hears the words “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore” coming out of the mouths of guests as they enter the magnificent hotel. “History. Quality. Service. Memories. Those four words are our mission statement and we offer the best of each.”
All photos courtesy of the Peabody Hotel
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