ROLLING OUT THE RED CARPET | Darrin Henry
Sitting on the floor here in Memphis competing for space to watch a bunch of ducks waddle on a red carpet makes me realise that perhaps back home in St Helena our quirky traits could have a definite role in our fledgling tourism venture.
Most Reliable Tourist Attractions in The World
Let me explain. In the Peabody Hotel, in downtown Memphis, ducks have been kept on the roof since the 1930s. Every morning at 11am they are brought down in the lift to the hotel lobby fountain. The ducks are trained to ‘march’ the 10m to the fountain where they spend the day, before ‘marching’ back to the lift at 5pm, returning to a specially constructed $200,000 enclosure on the roof. Not too shabby.
Marketing gurus everywhere must drool at the success of this simple formula that pulls in people from far and wide. The eccentricity of the whole thing taps into our natural curiosity for anything unusual.
Inside The Peabody Hotel
We thought we’d get here early, but at 4.25pm the hotel lobby is already very full. The ducks seem unfazed by the attention, happily splashing about, in and around the fountain as though ducks in the lobby of a posh, four star hotel is normal.
With 25 minutes to go the ceremonial red carpet is rolled out and prime viewing spots are quickly claimed. Children sitting cross legged on the floor are in front, which is where we are too, nicely positioned near the lift doors.
The Duckmaster makes a grand speech about the traditions of what we are about to witness as the well drilled ducks, line up behind him waiting on the signal. It’s fantastic drama.
March Of The Peabody Ducks
And then, 5pm on the dot, the ritual begins. The ducks waddle up the red carpet as dozens of camera flashes go off. I’m trying to get a shot from floor level so I’ve pre-focused the camera on wide angle, set focus to manual and am shooting blind, or real ‘point and shoot’ to be exact.
The ducks march by ahead of the Duckmaster, glancing left and right at their audience. In a moment it’s all over, the lift doors close and the Peabody Ducks are gone. Everyone is smiling and comparing pictures. We’ve all just watched some ducks walk past but it could have been a celebrity, that’s how we feel. How mental is that? “Suckers,” I imagine the marketing guys saying while rubbing their hands together with glee. But I don’t care; I heard about this event many years ago and I feel privileged to have finally seen it.
I mentioned St Helena earlier – the whole spectacle has me thinking. Back home we have plenty of ducks, even more chickens. We have our famous endemic wirebirds; could we train the wirebirds? Perhaps Jonathon our giant tortoise could perform a ceremonial entry to the paddock each day? Mind you, that could take forever with a tortoise and especially one that’s believed to be over 180 years old.
We leave the hotel and start walking toward Beale Street to find something to eat. We are still talking about the Peabody Ducks.