Ducking Away at Peabody Little Rock
I’m waiting in the lobby of Little Rock’s Peabody Hotel, where less than 15 minutes remain before the appearance of Peabody’s most famous stars. Hotel staff already prepared red carpet for the event.
As I’m checking my camera, someone taps me on the shoulder.
“Are you with the Shen Yun group?” asks a lady in suit and heels—one of the hotel staff.
After confirming her assumption, she introduces me to a man dressed smartly in scarlet, holding a hooked walking stick in his right hand. He is Lloyd Withrow, the master of ceremonies and one of only three official Duckmasters in the world. I am duly impressed.
Emcee Kelly Wen enters the lobby and joins our little circle. The hotel then asks us to become Honorary Duckmasters on behalf of Shen Yun Performing Arts, as we had our Little Rock shows next door at Robinson Center Music Hall. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to accompany the Peabody Ducks on the red carpet for their daily parade from elevator to fountain. It’s a ceremony that’s been taking place since 1940, uninterrupted by war, 13 presidents, and over 70 duck seasons.
We are honored by the invitation and accept the mission. We’re eager to see if this duck parade is all that it’s quacked up to be.
Duckmaster Withrow invites Kelly and me to stand by the fountain, where he knights us with his cane as Honorary Duckmasters, complete with official certificate.
In the lobby, a crowd is starting to gather: some wearing suits, others wearing slacks. The former are hotel representatives and stand in a row like an honor guard. The latter hold cameras in their hands.
We’re directed onto the red carpet, where we walk its plushy lengths to a glass elevator. Kelly and I stand side-by-side, facing the crowd, as Duckmaster Withrow advises us from behind.
“Take a bow,”—he instructs, and when we start ascending—“Now do a princess wave.” We wave. “Don’t forget to smile.” We forget not.
We arrive on the ballroom terrace to pick up the ducks, who have been waiting for us in their royal carriage. There are five in total—a mallard named JJ and his four female attendants. Kelly and I move aside as the ducks enter the elevator and waddle their way to the glass to inspect their admiring public.
The elevator returns to the lobby, where John Phillip Sousa’s King Cotton March resounds from the speakers. Duckmaster Withrow strolls out through the doors, trailing his cane as a guide for the ducks. Kelly and I bring up the rear. Cameras flash amidst applause from an appreciative audience. The ducks are unruffled by the attention.
The eight of us walk a grand half-circle in the lobby. Kelly and I stop before the fountain, but the ducks dive right in, merrily quacking all the way. They’ll spend the rest of the day swimming and eating to their heart’s content, a glamorous routine that fits the bill. After all, they are the real VIPs—Very Important Poultry.
If you're wondering how this whole tradition got started, it all began in 1932, with Peabody Hotel General Manager Frank Schutt. After an unsuccessful hunting trip led to a drinking binge, the tipsy Schutt and his friend left their live duck decoys in the hotel lobby fountain. The ducks were a big hit with the guests.