So many cities have at least one venerable hotel, a historic landmark, often with an upholstered concierge’s retreat, an elaborate stained glass lobby ceiling, ornate balconies crafted of dark wood, maybe a fountain in the middle of the lobby, and shoeshine stand near the men’s room. BUT the classic hotels are lacking some of the amenities now considered obligatory: no exercise room, no pool with adjacent spa, no escalators between floors. And that spacious lobby becomes an expensive liability if it can’t be filled with paying customers of the bar, tea room, and restaurant services.
Sometimes a hotel gets lucky. For example, in San Francisco the venerable St. Francis Hotel was and is a traditional meeting place for families and friends after a day of shopping in the city for the wives, and business meetings for the husbands. The St. Francis’s slogan is “Meet me under the Clock”, a reference to a huge grandfather-style clock that has graced the lobby through many updates and remodelings. And once you have met under the clock, it is natural to take a seat at the adjacent bar for an end-of-day aperitif for the grownups and a Shirley Temple for the kids.
The Peabody Hotel in Memphis has no clock. But it does have a fountain, and in the fountain there are ducks. Why ducks? you may well ask. It seems that some decades ago the proprietor of the hotel and his drinking buddies got a bit inebriated and decided it would be a fine joke to put some live ducks in the fountain in the hotel lobby. To their surprise and bemusement, the ducks got lots of attention, including radio and newspaper coverage, and generated a lot of foot traffic as folks came in to see the web-footed invaders. No fool, the proprietor made the ducks a permanent feature.
Now the ducks have become a mini-merchandising empire. A red carpet stretches from the elevator to the fountain, and at 11 Am the duckmaster (in red jacket with gold braid) places carpeted steps against the fountain and escorts the ducks (who spend their off time in a spacious coop on the roof) to their fountain exercise pool The balconies are groaning with tourists taking pictures of the ducks. Many of these tourists will end up having lunch at the Peabody.
At 5PM the ceremony is reversed, as the ducks are herded out of the fountain and back into the elevator, again with a throng of fans watching, and likely sticking around for a cup of tea or a drink in the lobby lounge.
And if watching the feathery family parade is not enough for you, you can purchase a ducky souvenir at the hotel gift shop: rubber ducks of all descriptions to float in your bathtup, duck-shaped soap, duck-handled umbrellas, duck-embroidered hand towels, duck-billed hoodies, duck-stamped wallets, plus the usual key chains, post cards, snow globes, and so on.
All because a few guys got silly on a Saturday night.