The Peabody Hotel

          ...and the famous ducks in Historic-Memphis

 

 

The Peabody is a luxury hotel and no hotel in Memphis history has more "magic" associated with its name nor more memories associated with it.  The most recognizable features of the hotel today,  are the large red neon "The Peabody" sign atop the Skyway Ballroom, and the famous Peabody ducks.  But there was an  earlier Peabody on Main Street - the first luxury hotel, dating from 1869.  While so much of early Memphis History has been "demolished", today's Peabody on Union continues to offer world class accommodations.  This page covers the entire history of the grand old Peabody Hotel.

 
 
 

Special Thanks to The Memphis Peabody for many of the key photos on this page.


 

 

 

 

George Peabody

 

The original Peabody Hotel was built by Robert Campbell Brinkley in 1869.  originally planned to name the hotel "Brinkley House" but changed the name to honor  George Peabody, a wealthy man who made major contributions to Southern institutions.   Brinkley had met George Peabody on a ship bound for England in the mid 1860s.  He was on his way to find financing for a stretch of railroad linking Little Rock to Memphis.  The two men became friendly and by the time the ship docked Peabody had invited Brinkley to be a guest at his estate.

 

George Peabody




By the time Brinkley returned to Memphis, he not only had secured his railroad financing, but with Peabody's help, had the $60,000 to build his grand Memphis hotel, which he planned to  name "Brinkley House".   But Peabody died in England 9 months before the new hotel opened and during this period Brinkley changed the name of the hotel to "Peabody" to honor his friend.  

      The Peabody  
 

When Peabody died in England, the Dean of Westminster offered burial in the Abbey, but George's will stated that he wished to be interred in his hometown of Danvers, Massachusetts.  So with the approval of Queen Victoria, a temporary period of burial in the Abbey was decided as a mark of great respect for George Peabody in 1869.  Later, Prime Minister William Gladstone arranged for Peabody's remains to be returned to America on HMS Monarch, the newest and largest ship in the Royal Navy.

 

Temporary burial  in Abbey

 
 

 

Peabody Hotel opens 1869

 



On February 5, 1869, The Peabody had a grand opening.  It was the beginning of "better times, after the Civil War, and the following years of Reconstruction.  Those Memphians who looked to the future, found it in The Peabody.  And it was a financial success from the day it opened.

Peabody 1888            

 
 

   Peabody 1891

Peabody 1891 Peabody 1895 Peabody 1899 Peabody 1906
    



Shortly after the hotel opened, Robert Campbell Brinkley presented the hotel to his daughter Anna Overton Brinkley and her fiance Robert B. Snowden as a wedding gift. 
 For the next 96 years the Snowden family, in one way or another, will have a connection to  the Peabody Hotel.

 

Anna Snowden

Robt B. Snowden

Robt C. Brinkley

 

The hotel was magnificent.  It had 75 gas-lit rooms with private bathrooms, a first class dining room, shops, entertainment, a large and beautiful lobby, as well as a grand ballroom, where lavish balls were held.  It was the place to see and be seen.  The hotel was highly successful.  Guests paid $3 to $4 for a room with meals included in the price.  Guests here included Presidents Andrew Johnson and William McKinley and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest. 

 

1860 Ballroom

1869 Call Center 1869 Dining Room 1869 Lobby 1869 Gaslights
 

Ladies Parlor English Breakfast Room Rip Van Rinkle room Venetian Room
 

Although The Peabody history says the hotel opened in 1969, we found newspaper documentation that the hotel actually opened for guests in the fall of 1968.  Apparently they began using parts of the hotel before it was completely ready.  And we found no documentation of the "Official" 1869 February opening other than the Peabody management did host a ball  February 5, 1869.  However, not one word in the article mentioned that it was the official opening of the hotel, although there was a midnight dinner and dancing continued until sunrise.

 

1868 Dining Rm

1868 "Brinkley" 1868 OPEN 1868 1869 Ad

1869 Feb Ball

1883
 
 

 

Peabody Addition   ...Lowenstein's and the Fransioli Hotel

 

After the turn of the century, the Peabody constructed a  $350,000 addition at the back.  It was an all steel structure - the first of its kind in Memphis.  But it wasn't enough.  In 1923 , hotel management decided it was time for a new and larger  building and closed the old Main Street Peabody.  They had negotiated with Lowenstein's who wanted to take over the corner and build a grand new department store.   A block away, at 2nd and Union, a new,  bigger and better Peabody is scheduled to open within 2 years ...

       New Wing...1908

 

               

New ...1908

1911

1913 1920 New Hotel? Lowenstein's 1926

Brinkley Center today

 

The Fransioli Hotel was located on the corner of 2nd and Union from 1883 to 1923.   It had 4 floors and 100 "large and airy rooms", and was considered one of the finest hotels in early Memphis.   In 1919 the hotel was sold to the Hallidays who operated the Gayoso Hotel.  Later it was sold to the Southern Hotel Co who demolished the hotel in 1923 and built the new Peabody Hotel on the site.   The Fransioli is so closely associated with The Peabody that one can't really discuss the Peabody history without mentioning The Fransioli.  Ironically, the design of the Fransioli looks almost identical to the design of the old Peabody on Main Street.

  Fransioli Hotel    

 

 

 

 

The New Peabody


Construction began on the new Peabody within a month after the old Peabody on Main closed.  The new hotel was designed by Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager, with a plan for 625 rooms with baths.  Ahlschlager had designed the Roxy and Beacon Theatres in NYC, the Sheridan Plaza Hotel and Davis Theatre in Chicago, and the Carew Tower in Cincinnati.  His design for the Peabody has been described as Italian Renaissance Revival.  The cost in 1925 was $5,000,000.

Walter Aslschlager

 

Vintage Construction Photos of the Peabody Hotel at 2nd and Union ...from the beginning to the completion ...

       

For the 1925 opening of the New Peabody, 1200 preview party invitations were sent to the Who's Who of the South.  Everyone who was anyone wanted to be seen at 2nd and Union during the event.   450 newly hired staff were trained for the pre-opening ceremonies.  The Peabody was back!  Once again the hotel established a reputation as the center of social life for the entire region.  The grand new Peabody saw a steady stream of the wealthy and prominent congregate to dine and to dance.  It was the largest and most elegant hotel in the South for the next fifty years and represented true opulence and grandeur.

 

Formal Opening

 

     Peabody Exterior

Peabody Exterior

Lobby-1925

Lobby -1925

Lobby - 1927

 

1925 Ad

1927 Menu

Radio WREC 1932

Lobby 1940s

1925 Guestroom

     
   
     

 

 

The famous ducks became part of the Peabody legend in 1932.  Frank Schutt, the general manager of the hotel and one of his friends had returned empty-handed from an Arkansas hunting trip.  That evening, after a few drinks,  the two played a prank by putting their live duck decoys in the lobby's fountain.  The reaction from hotel guests was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.   Schutt recognized a good thing, and as a promotion, he replaced the decoys with five Mallard ducks who were  trained to walk into the hotel and directly to the fountain... a tradition that continues today. 

 

Today's ducks have their own "penthouse" on the hotel's roof.  Every day at 11 AM they are led by the "Duckmaster"down the elevator to the lobby.  A red carpet leads to the fountain and they march through the crowd to the tune of "King Cotton March".  The ceremony is reversed at 5 PM.  The duckmaster coordinates all of this.  Each day there is also an honorary Duckmaster... usually a youngster, but many visiting celebrities have asked to be the Duckmaster - including Oprah Winfrey, Justin Timberlake, Paula Deen, Gene Simmons, George Hamilton, Larry King ...etc.

 

To the fountain... Up the stairs... Smile! Quack! All in a day's Work...
 

Duck March

Quack!

Duckmaster Doug

On the Red Carpet

       Duck Palace Interior

 
       
 
 

The Continental Ballroom and The Venetian Ballroom:  Throughout the 1940s-1960s, the hotel was so associated with world-class glamour that most Memphis Schools wanted to hold their proms and/or Banquets in one of the Peabody's grand ballrooms.   It was a complete rite of passage and a sure sign that you were now "grown up" and it was something you'd never forget.  After all, "It was The Peabody".

 

Continental Ballroom ..

 

1951 Tech High Senior Banquet      1951-52 Prom The Venetian Ballroom 1950 Ballroom
    
 
 
    

The Skyway Night Club and the Plantation Roof:  The Skyway opened in 1938.  Prior to that the roof was totally open and guests danced under the stars at the "Marine Roof" and later the "Moroccan Roof".  During the Big Band era, the Skyway and Plantation Roof was the place to be at night.  All the major bands headlined at the Peabody Skyway.  Walk around town in the evening and you could hear the music coming from the Skyway and the nearby Claridge Hotel.  From the skyway or Plantation Roof, there are stunning views of the city and the river.  Beginning in 1937, the big bands were broadcast nationwide on CBS radio.

              The Skyway  
 
The Skyway

The Skyway

Plantation Roof

Plantation Roof

 

     Tony Pastor        
              

Set Ups, anyone?  Prior to the mid-60's, alcoholic beverages were sold in Tennessee only as sealed bottles in licensed liquor stores.  Yet it was possible to have drinks at The Skyway.  Patrons would bring a bottle, acquired elsewhere and the waiter would bring "set ups" of your choice to the table and you mixed your own.  And the patrons who didn't have their own bottle?  There was a licensed Liquor Store in the Peabody lobby.  Waiters would take your money and go down and buy a bottle for patrons, and bring you a receipt and your change.

 

"Set Ups"

1952 Receipt

  

 
Three who are remembered...
 

       Frank Schutt >

       Alonzo Locke >


   Edward Pembroke >
 

         

Frank Schutt was General Manager of the Peabody from the opening in 1925 to his retirement in 1956.  He obviously did something right?    

Alonzo Locke, the Peabody's Maitre d' , was known for his amazing memory.  He guided people to their tables for over 40 years.  When they returned years later, he would address them by name.  Locke Elementary school was named for him.

 

Edward Pembroke was the Duckmaster from 1940 -1991.  He had been a wild animal tamer with the Ringling Bros-Barnum & Bailey Circus.  At the Peabody he volunteered to be the first Duckmaster and taught the ducks to march into the lobby to the music of Sousa's "King Cotton March".

 

All is well with the Peabody!  

 

 

       ... But


During the 1950s a nationwide move to the suburbs began.  Memphians were no longer shopping regularly on Main Street  and Downtown Memphis began to feel the pain.  The Peabody was no exception.  The hotel had many vacancies and the restaurants were almost empty.  The building was beginning to be in need of repairs, and by 1953 it was known that the Peabody was for sale.  There were two bidders - the Albert Pick Corporation and the Alsonett Hotel Group.  In 1953 the hotel went to the Alsonett Hotel Group .  

 "An Alsonett Hotel"  


It soon became obvious that the "hotel would never be the same".  Alsonett set aside tradition in favor of economy.  Cost cutting practices were evident everywhere.  Downgrading was the name of the game.  And any profits were used to upgrade Alsonett properties elsewhere.  The profitable convention business completely disappeared.  The hotel faced huge debts and was unable to get financing.  In 1965, the grand old Peabody was forced into foreclosure.   

 

      Foreclosure!

The auction began in December of 1965.  Robert B. Snowden, of THE SNOWDENS,  placed the winning bid.   Within 48 hours he re-sold the Peabody to the Sheraton chain.  How could a Snowden doom this great hotel?  But Snowden knew that Sheraton was going to improve the hotel.  And Sheraton assured Memphis that all Peabody traditions would remain the same and they set about restoring the old building.  BUT THEY NEGLECTED to MENTION THERE WOULD BE A NAME CHANGE.  For the next 9 years the hotel would be called the Sheraton-Peabody.  Memphians felt this was better than nothing.

" The Sheraton-Peabody"

 
       

Sheraton really tried.  Unfortunately the steady decline of downtown Memphis continued - at a much faster pace after the 1968 assassination of Martin L. King.  In December of 1973, the Sheraton-Peabody closed the doors and posted a "For Sale" sign.  Of course this was a huge blow to a struggling downtown which had essentially become a boarded-up ghost town.   The Peabody had a short reprieve in 1974 when a group of Alabama investors reopened the hotel.  But it was doomed to failure and by April 1,1975 this group was forced to declare bankruptcy and the grand old Peabody was put up for public auction by the county.

           "Closed"

 



July 31, 1975.  Auction Day.  Philip Belz and his son Jack of Belz Enterprises were there to bid.  At this time, The Belz family were generally unknown to most Memphians.  There were only two other bidders present on this day - a scrap dealer, and "Prince Mongo".  Very quickly the Belz's became the owners of a hotel for $400,000 and their lives were changed forever. 

 

SOLD.!  The Belz Family 


It took 4 years and 25 million dollars, more than twice the original estimate to complete the renovation of the landmark structure.  The grand opening in 1981 is widely considered in Memphis as a major stimulus and inspiration for the downtown revitalization that followed.    Today, The Peabody continues to offer world class accommodations and is a historic icon in Memphis.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

 

Renovation!

 

The Peabody is back !  Better than ever!

 



"The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg. The Peabody is the Paris Ritz, the Cairo Shepheard's, the London Savoy of this section. If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby, where ducks waddle and turtles drowse, ultimately you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta."
  - David Cohn,, 1935

   Opening 1981  
 

Special Thanks to Woody Savage for many photos in this section.

 

The Peabody

The Peabody

Logo

The Peabody

The Peabody      

 

Architectural Details

Entrance

Corridor

Elevators

 

Lobby

Lobby

Lobby Bar

Lobby Bar

 

Lobby Fountain      Lobby - Fountain Lobby - Fountain Lobby
 

Lobby-Mezzanine Skylight-Chandelier Continental Ballroom Afternoon Tea

    

Lobby - Christmas 2009     

Lobby Christmas-2009

Telephones

  

Francis Scott Key Piano

Mezzanine Museum Mezzanine Museum Pastry Shop
 

Lobby Shops

Lobby Shops

Lobby Shops

Lobby Shops

Carriages

Capriccio Grill

Lobby Decor

Corner Bar

Lobby Decor

Chez Philippe                Chez Philippe Louis Room Forrest Room

    1990s Guestroom

Deluxe King Room Deluxe Double Room Pool
   
   
     

Peabody Memorabilia                



In July of 1978, a group of over 1800 memorabilia seekers and bargain hunters stool in line for the first Peabody garage sale.  A second sale was held a month later.  "Everything" not historically related to the hotel was sold.  Numerous items from the sale are now showing up regularly on Ebay - along with other historical Peabody Hotel memorabilia.  
  >

 

      1978 "Garage Sale"

1869 Gaslight 1874 Billhead 1883 DUCK Menu 1924 Peabody Construction 

1924 Peabody Construction 

1925 Opening Roof Finial Photo Souvenir 1930 Photo Souvenir

Vintage Key Key Fobs 1930s Vintage Key Key 1920s Vintage Key  Key 1920s

1888 1899 1900 1901 1901

1909 1910 1913 1916

1919 1921 1933 1936
 

1936

1942

1948

Vintage

 
 

1930 Ad 1929 Ad Calling Card Dish Match Striker 1930 Brass Dog

         
 

Small Dish Silver Bowl Oval Serving Dish Plate Cover

        Teapot

Silver Bowl

Silver Bowls       Plate Cover

Spoons Spoon Forks Tongs Vase 1926 bowl - compote Candle Holder Berry Bowl

Soup Bowl 1940s Creamer Sugar Sugar Cup-Saucer

Gravy Boat -Vintage

Plate 1920s

Demi Cup

Ashtray

Bowl

     

Towel 2010

Card Decks Skyway c 1950s Chuck Cabot Skyway 1950s Sugar 1951

Welcome 1960s

Shoehorn Ashtray Ashtray Door Check Soap 1945

Tags 1930s-40s Mirror 1970 Receipt 1941 1982 Ad Cup Plate

Matchbook Matchbook Matchbook Matchbook Thimble Pen Convention Shot Glass

Alsonett Coathanger     Alsonett Matches Alsonett Brochure Foreclosure Letterhead

Sheraton Book

 

1941 Peabody Menu

 

1941 Peabody Menu

1942 Peabody Menu 

1943 Peabody Grill Menu

1954 Peabody Menu

1958 Breakfast

1927 Chas Lindberg Dinner

1927 Menu

1955 Grill Menu

Sewing Kit

1925 Ad       

Vintage Tea Menu ...

1900 Stationery

1904 Barbers

1913 Gravy Boat

Check tag

Bookmark

Do Not Disturb

1902 Postcard

1888 Letter

Kitchen Towels

  
       
       

Some of the "Famous" who have stayed at the Peabody...

D. Aykroyd K. Bacon Y. Brynner G. Bush N . Cage J. Carter B. Clinton S. Hayes P. Como

J. Crawford

                   

T. Cruise D. Day P. Deen J. DiMaggio N. Forrest M. Freeman M. Gaynor A. Gore G. Grant

A. Griffith  

                   

G. Hackman G. Hamilton R. Harris S. Hayward F.Henderson B. Hope J. Iglacias A. Jackson J. Jackson

M. Jagger

                   

B. Joel A. Johnson L.B. Johnson M. Jordan L. King R.E. Lee J.  Lewis A Margaret W. McKinley O'Neal
                   

 C.Powell    

L.M.Presley P.Presley Prince   D. Quaid L. Rawls R. Reagan l. Richard E.Roosevelt S.Sarandon
                   

J.Seinfield Springsteen P.Swayze M Thatcher

D. Thomas

M. Thomas J.Timberlake H.Truman HRH William O.Winfrey
                   
                   
      

To more HISTORIC-MEMPHIS Hotels  - the larger hotels:    Click Here
 

To more HISTORIC-MEMPHIS Hotels  - the smaller hotels:  Click Here

 

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"I'm the retired production manager of WREG-TV. When I first went to work for Channel 3, we were located in the basement of the Peabody, The radio station had been there since the hotel opened in 1925. The manager of the Peabody had seen radio stations in all the big New York hotels and asked Hoyt B Wooten who had his radio store in the Peabody to move his radio station from Whitehaven to the Peabody. It was in the Peabody for the next 52 years. All of WREC'S station Ids were WREC 600 on your radio with studios in Hotel Peabody the South's finest and one of Americas best hotels. Each night, WREC would do a live broadcast from the Skyway that was sent all over the country over the CBS radio network".  - Walter Bolton

    
"Notice the sign on top of Hotel Peabody?  My Step-Dad built that sign and erected it a LONG time ago" - Rex King
 

"My father was an employee of the Peabody for over fifty years, so I grew up hearing about the Peabody and going there often.  My birthday cakes were made at their bakery and our special occasions were celebrated there.  Daddy was personnel manager for the elevator/waiter staff.  I remember going to several dances in the ballroom where the kitchen staff would keep peeping in the door to see "what Mr. Barrett's daughter looked like."  I loved the Peabody and still do.  We had my father's 100th Birthday party at the Peabody in 1991.  He died in 1994 at 103 years old."  - Sarah Barrett Cave

"I can't remember the year, but it was when the made for TV movie "North & South was showing on WHBQ Channel 13.  I had a great friend at WMPS Radio station who was one of the DJ's and he called me and told me that Patrick Swayze was going to be at the Peabody Hotel to do a commercial to promote "North & South". So I went up there with a couple of my friends with my husband's camera, that I didn't know how to operate. When Patrick came into the lobby by the fountain, I was trying to get the camera focused and literally fell over a huge chair. Everyone was cracking up, and Patrick came over, helped me up and asked me if I was alright.  I guess you can tell how I was feeling! HA! He told me to get my camera ready and he would pose for a picture. I still have the photo and the memory."  -Trilby Duncan Tipler

    

"The Dave Clark Five was a band from the British Invasion of the 60's.  A friend and I heard they were holding a press conference at the Peabody with Disc Jockey Lance Russell (Memphis Wrestling Fame).  We left school and told him we were from the school newspaper and were there for the press conference.  He said there wasn't enough room.  Dejected, we walked into the lobby and heard that the band was staying on the 13th floor (Hmm...I didn't think tall buildings had a 13th floor).  Anyway, we took the elevator up and as we got off, we heard that they had just gone downstairs.  We just about killed ourselves running down 13 flights of stairs, but we found them in an alcove in the lobby, waiting to be ushered into the press room.  They kindly chatted with us and gave autographs.  A few minutes later we walked into the press conference with the band, and Lance Russell was grinning from ear to ear."  - Margo Frazier

 

 



 

Credits

 

The Historic-Memphis website does not intentionally post copyrighted photos and material without permission or credit.  On occasion a "non-credited" photo might possibly be posted because we were unable to find a name to give credit.  Because of the nature of our non-commercial, non-profit, educational website, we strongly believe that these photos would be considered "Fair Use.  We have certainly made no monetary gain, although those using this website for historic or Genealogy research have certainly profited.  If by chance, we have posted your copyrighted photo, please contact us, and we'll remove it immediately, or we'll add your credit if that's your choice.   

 

The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this page possible:  Woody Savage for his many photos,  The Memphis Peabody, "The Peabody: A history of the South's grand hotel", Google Earth, Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Joe Spake, and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions. 

We do not have high definition  copies of the photos on these pages.  If anyone wishes to secure high definition photos,  please contact the photographer  or the collector.  (To avoid any possibility of contributing to SPAM, we do not maintain a file of the email addresses of photographers or collectors).

 

 

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