The Peabody Hotel truly keeps its ducks in a row. Each morning at 11, its five resident North American mallards depart their “Royal Duck Palace” on the hotel’s rooftop and waddle to the elevator, riding it down a dozen floors until the doors open to reveal a red carpet lined with guests. The ducks then march single file down the carpet to the center of the lobby, where they hop into a travertine fountain to play for the day. At 5, they march all the way back up to their rooftop digs. “It’s an unusual ceremony, but I see the effect it has on people,” says Kenon Walker, the hotel’s Duckmaster since 2020. “I love how something so simple can bring people so much joy.” Here he shares duck dramas, the special treatment he gives his mallards, and his favorite things to do around Memphis when not attending to waterfowl.
“Every three months, we rotate our ducks and release the current group to live on a nearby farm. The first marches of the new team happen in front of everybody. I try to line the red carpet with people all the way from the elevator to the fountain so they form a human tunnel; otherwise, I get a lot of cardio. I’ve literally had to chase ducks into the gift shop, behind the bar, and out to the valet stand. After about two weeks, they get accustomed to it.”
“The $200,000 marble Royal Duck Palace on the hotel’s rooftop has a glass wall that gives the mallards gorgeous downtown views. They even have their own miniature Peabody Hotel replica to crawl inside for a nap. On weekends, the hotel sets up a bar next to the Palace so guests can sip cocktails and watch the ducks at sunset.”
“I feed the ducks scratch grains from a silver platter twice a day. The hotel has a French restaurant (Chez Philippe), but we don’t serve any duck in the hotel. Ours might be the only French restaurant in the world that does not have duck on the menu.”
Walking in Memphis
“If you’re looking for something to do outside the hotel, my top recommendation is the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. I used to be a lead tour guide there. I also recommend the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, where I was a historian. It’s where people like Otis Redding and Albert King recorded. And it’s the only museum in the city with a Soul Train dance floor.”
As told to Allison Entrekin
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of Southbound.