Praising the Peabody: Celebrating its 145th Anniversary

Posted on September 30, 2014

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By Katie Butler

Statues, parks, building and restaurants; the puzzle pieces that make up cities around the globe. However, there is always an establishment that seems to stand out in the minds of visitors and newcomers in any given city, a place so majestic or noteworthy that it forever engrains itself in the memories of all who visit a city. Upon my first visit to Memphis, there was one iconic building that seemed to outshine all the rest; the Peabody Hotel in the heart of downtown. With it’s intricate and delicately crafted interior, it’s iconic duck parades, and it’s contributions to the city of Memphis as a whole, the Peabody is worth celebrating.

On September 4th, the Peabody hotel celebrated its 145th anniversary. Originally opened in 1869 on Main Street, the hotel moved to its current location on Union Avenue between Second and Third Street in 1925. The original hotel cost about $60,000 thousand to build, but the current hotel that visitors stay at today went through a $25 million renovation in 1981.

Often people wonder how the tradition of the Peabody ducks began. According to history, back in the 1930’s, the General Manager of the Peabody Frank Schutt and his friend Chip Barwick returned to the hotel after a hunting trip and thought it would be humorous to place some of their fake hunting duck decoys in the lobby fountain. Thinking this was a brilliant idea, the hotel decided to try live ducks, and people reacted with enthusiasm and pleasure. Henceforth, the Peabody ducks became a defining symbol of the hotel and Memphis itself. If you are interested in witnessing the march of the ducks yourself, this task is not a difficult one. The ducks make appearances twice a day, and march down a red carpet into the fountain the middle of the lobby, surrounded by camera flashes and smiles of the public, they put on a great show. When they are not doing their marching duties, the ducks live in a rooftop “palace” on the top of the hotel.

Not only does the history of the hotel including the marching of the ducks, but there are many other defining characteristics of this iconic hotel that are worth celebrating. The hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and serves as a great historical site in Memphis, popular among tourists and Memphians alike. Many famous individuals have stayed at the hotel while visiting Memphis, and the hotel asserted itself as an enriching environment for blues artists in the 1920’s and 1930’s. As a result, many talented and famous musicians have performed in the hotel for the pleasure of guests, boosting the reputation of the Peabody. Further, the hotel has been used as a movie location, and many famous and important individuals have been honored with the chance to stay at the hotel and be a guest “duckmaster.”

The Peabody is not simply a hotel for wayward travelers passing through Memphis. No, it serves a higher purpose. It is an icon of the city itself, contributing to the flavor and identity of Memphis. Therefore, as the hotel celebrates its 145th anniversary, all Memphians should take a moment to find the hotel in the city skyline, smile, and think about the role that a seemingly simple business can play in the city that we call home.

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Posted in: News