|By Timberly Moore, The Commercial Appeal,
Memphis, Tenn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 27--Even when Peabody duckmaster Anthony Petrina cleans the duck palace, he wears his distinct red sport coat with its black collar, gold buttons and gold embroidery.
"Alfred didn't serve Batman in a T-shirt," he said.
The ducks don't fight crime, but they've become a symbol for the hotel that wouldn't dream of putting its feathered friend on its restaurants' menu.
"I never much cared for duck dishes, but now I can't stomach the thought of it," said Petrina, the fifth full-time duckmaster in Peabody Memphis history.
This year, the Memphis Peabody Hotel is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the ducks' arrival by sharing facts about their iconic mascots throughout 2013 during the traditional two-a-day duck march.
The hotel group had three duckmasters until earlier this month when its Little Rock site became a Marriott and its ducks were sent to an Arkansas farm. Now it's just Petrino and the duckmaster at the Orlando Peabody.
The birds moved into the hotel in 1933 when the manager and his friends returned from a hunting trip drunk and put live English call ducks in the fountain.
Hotel guests loved seeing the ducks in the lobby so much that management moved three English call ducks into the hotel, but switched to the North American mallard later in that decade.
The marches started in 1940 when Edward Pembroke, a former circus trainer who was duckmaster for 50 years, offered to train the ducks.
Their lair is in the highest room the Peabody offers (also known as the roof) and is furnished with a marble fountain. When the ducks are lounging in the lobby fountain, lunch is served on a silver platter, said Kelly Earnest, Peabody Hotel spokeswoman.
"While the ducks are spoiled here at the hotel, they are not domesticated," Earnest said. "We don't touch the ducks. We give them as little human contact as possible so they can go back into the wild after they retire."
The ducks retire to a farm in Shelby County after three months of duty. As a rule, the ducks don't get names either, though Petrina joked it may be more for his benefit, so he doesn't get too attached.
When Petrina arrives at 9:30 each morning, he offers a chipper good morning to the poultry and a plate of lettuce. He hoses them down and spruces up their palace.
He leaves to roll out the red carpet and returns to start the renowned Peabody Duck March.
The ducks -- four females and one male -- travel from their palace in the sky to the lobby fountain. Petrina's elevator key gives him the power to zoom from the skyway to the lobby uninterrupted. On the elevator he speaks to them like old friends he needs a favor from instead of animals he commands.
At 11 a.m., like clockwork, the elevator doors open, the ducks race down the red carpet, bypass the cheering crowd and dive into the fountain like children on summer vacation.
Peggy Jo Clark, of Los Angeles, said she loved watching the children that came from two Memphis-area schools to see the parade.
"It was like watching a piece of history," Clark said. "They've managed to maintain all the traditions."
Rebecca Wurzburger, Mayor Pro Tem of Santa Fe, N. M., who came with Clark on a bucket list trip, said seeing the ducks was nostalgic.
"It brought back many memories of the decoys my dad used to have when he went hunting," she said. "I'm originally from Tupelo and I was too poor growing up so I wanted to stay here at the hotel before I died."
Despite the switch in Little Rock, Earnest said the Peabody brand remains intact.
"There will always be a Peabody in Memphis and there will always be ducks," she said.
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