Saturday, 31 October 2009

American Retrospectives: Memphis: The Peabody Hotel

I find myself telling a lot of stories about my travels. The one that tends to come up more recently is a trip I took over the summer to Memphis with my parents. We managed to tackle most of Memphis (and celebrate my 21st very belatedly!) Since I have loads of pictures and anecdotes, this entry starts a series of American retrospectives on that trip....
We drove to Memphis from Alabama, a four hour drive through the more rural parts of Mississippi. We arrived in Memphis shortly before a baseball game was meant to begin. What struck me first, was how similar it felt to driving into Nashville. Neither are particularly large cities, but both start with lower-lying newer buildings and houses. Once in the downtown area, the buildings shoot up into skyscrapers, a mixture of old and new. Just driving into Memphis alone we already saw the Sun Studio, (Both Elvis and Johnny Cash recorded here) and many of the older historical buildings that make up Memphis. Of course, no stay in this city would be complete without mentioning the Peabody, the most famous hotel in Memphis, and the place we ended up staying.
The Peabody Hotel has had a place in Memphis' history since 1869 when it was built. Of course it wasn't until 1925 that the hotel had it's present location. Built by Walter W. Ahlschlager, the hotel lobby is full of marble, deep sofas, and flowers. It feels like a lush paradise meant for only the most privileged. A piano is played on one side of the lobby, a ready bartender waits at the bar on the other side. Further on an arcade of shops selling everything from clothing to jade and expensive antiques. It's the experience hotel lovers look for. And then there are the ducks...
The tradition of ducks at the Peabody is dated back to the 30's, when the then manager and his friends went hunting and as a practical joke left their live decoy ducks in the hotel fountain. The joke quickly turned into a drawing point for the hotel, becoming so ingrained in its traditions that today everything in the hotel revolves about them. The ducks, four females and one male reside in the fountain throughout the day. In the morning (11:00) and evening (17:00), a grand ceremony takes place where the Duckmaster either takes them back up to their penthouse (The Royal Duck Palace) residence, or brings them down via the central elevator. The ducks are trained to walk up and down the red carpet rolled out specifically for them. Every day at these times tourists crowd the lobby trying to get the best place to view the ducks. Outside of these times, the ducks can be seen on the roof of the 13th floor (called the Skyway for superstitious reasons) in their duck palace which includes a small model of the hotel and a small bathing pool. It's not a bad life when you consider that that ducks only live there for three months before returning to a life on a farm. What seems like a crazy tradition is visible throughout the hotel. The rooms have duck motifs on the pillows, bath mats, and even toiletries and coasters. And ,out of respect to the ducks, duck isn't served anywhere in the hotel...even in the French restaurant.
It's hard to have a bad night in a hotel like this. The beds are ridiculously comfortable, the amenities so numerous it would be impossible to list them all, and service that is dedicated to making sure that things run at optimum performance. Of course the hotel is also just around the corner from the famed Beale Street, and many other attractions meaning you can just roll out of bed, or fall into it after a day or night of seeing and experiencing Memphis. And for those of you that really like the ducks, for $335 (which includes one night's stay) you too can be Duckmaster for a day, complete with cane, certificate, and duck shaped cookies. Not bad, eh?

For more information on the ducks, check out the hotel link Peabody Ducks. Alternatively, Wikipedia also has some interesting facts on the hotel, including more relating to its history.

The Peabody Memphis
149 Union Avenue
Memphis, TN 38103

For R

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