April 19, 2012 at 2:54 PM ET
It’s a beloved tradition that began in 1940: the famous March of The Peabody Ducks happens twice daily in each of the three Peabody Hotel locations, with fans, guests and staff alike lining the red carpet to watch the ritual. But the ducks don’t find their way from the rooftop duck palace, into the elevator and down to the lobby fountain by themselves!
Each team of ducks is led by a professional duckmaster, a position that’s become so popular that a Peabody duckmasters blog was launched late last year to help fans stay in the loop on what the duckmasters (and ducks) are up to at the Memphis, Little Rock and Orlando properties. As it turns out, there’s more to the job than just guiding the ducks to the fountain.
“I go in nice and early, check on the ducks, give them their breakfast and make sure they’re ready for the 11 a.m. march,” Peabody Memphis duckmaster Anthony Petrina told TODAY.com. “After the march, I’m in the lobby to talk to people about the ducks, and I answer questions — as you can imagine, there are always a lot of questions!” In addition to chatting with visitors and giving tours of the historical hotel between the 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. marches, Petrina often finds himself honoring requests to pose for pictures and sign autographs.
Each team of ducks consists of four females and one beautiful drake, and new teams are brought in every three months. After serving their three months, the ducks accompany their duckmaster on a week-long goodwill tour where they visit schools and senior centers.
In the meantime, it’s also up to the duckmaster to train the new team, and it’s a process that goes more quickly than you’d think. When the new team first arrives, Petrina continues to march the veterans to the fountain, and trains the new ones on the rooftop. “I run through the routine of marching from the duck palace over to the elevator — they usually pick up on it within a couple of days,” Petrina said.
And then he begins marching the new team to the lobby in the morning. “When we go down the first morning, that’s the first time they see the carpet or the fountain,” he said. For the most part, it tends to go smoothly, and Petrina notes that if there’s a space on the side of the carpet when the newbies are marching, he’ll ask a member of the hotel staff to come fill it in so no ducks make a wrong turn.
Another benefit of acting as duckmaster — as if getting to march ducks twice a day isn’t enough — is rubbing elbows with the celebrities who act as honorary duckmasters. Although Petrina has only held the position for about six months, he’s already had the pleasure of meeting Elmo, Bert and Ernie (who “appeased [his] inner child”) and George Hamilton, who was not only extremely gracious, staying in the lobby to talk to guests and sign autographs, but actually had an interesting history with the hotel. His father was the band leader, so he lived in the Memphis hotel for several years and recalled fond memories of lining up to watch Edward Pembroke, the original duckmaster, lead the march.
More from Animal Tracks: