The tradition of the ducks swimming in The Peabody Hotels famous fountain started in the 1930s when the General Manager of The Peabody – Frank Schutt – and his friend, Chip Barwick, returned from a hunting trip and thought it would be funny to release a few live duck decoys (yes, back in the 30s they used live ducks to lure wild ducks) in the beautiful fountain. The hotel guests loved seeing the ducks enjoying the fountain, and so began the tradition, still being practiced 90 years later in Peabody hotels all over the world with the ducks entering the lobby every day at 11a.m., and then returning home to their luxurious rooftop palace at 5pm.
The position of “Duckmaster” at the Peabody Memphis is the only such position in the world. Celebrities have also assumed the role of Honorary Duckmaster from time to time, including Zane Lamprey, Paula Deen, Joan Collins, Molly Ringwald, Kevin Bacon, Peter Frampton, Emeril Lagasse, Patrick Swayze, Queen Noor of Jordan, Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King, among others.
The custom of keeping ducks in the lobby fountain may date back further than the 1930s. A pre-1915 postcard highlights the ducks playing in the fountain, and a rumor has it the custom goes back to the hotel’s opening in 1869.
On December 3, 2008 they unveiled a new “Duck Palace” located on the rooftop, for the 75th anniversary of the duck tradition. The 24 by 12 foot enclosure features granite flooring, ceiling fans, a scale replica of the hotel, a fountain decorated with a pair of bronze ducks, and a large viewing window for guests to see them in their new home. The Duck Palace cost approximately $200,000 to construct.