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Column: Ducks, drama and a dedication at Memphis' Peabody Hotel
Ronda Rich
Ronda Rich

It’s been 25 years or so since I first stayed at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. 

Proclaimed as the South’s Grand Hotel, I have since stayed a couple of dozen times, at least.

It was there in an enormous room, almost a suite, that I watched a pre-taped show I had recorded in New York a few days earlier, which featured renowned journalist Barbara Walters. For my part, I was a wide-eyed, naive country girl who took a couple of floggings from Walters, but managed, somehow, to hold my own.

Moments after the interview ended, my distinguished, courtly New York agent called and said, “On behalf of New Englanders, I apologize for how you were treated.” 

His temper was up.

Mama called a bit later, and as usual, pulled no punches. 

“I’m so mad that I’m spittin’ nails,” she said. “How dare someone treat my little girl like that!” After a tirade, she paused and said, “But you looked real pretty, and I was proud of how good you did. If I ever see her, though, I’m liable to pinch her head off.”

I remember my first stay at the Peabody a couple of years before that. The lobby was grand, and the building itself, like much of downtown Memphis, was beautiful and stately. Old Memphis has good bones. All of its older buildings are strong, tasteful and artfully designed.

The room —  during my first stay — was a disappointment with old bedspreads and carpet. It reminded me of the depressing rooms we often had in the woods of Pocono, Pennsylvania, when I was on the stock car circuit. The track owners and people were cordial and eager to have us visit twice a year, but there were few restaurants and no nice hotels —- or heart-shaped bathtubs.

Pocono was so rural. One time, Neil Bonnett was qualifying his race car there, and he throttled the gas to around 175 mph. Just as he hit top speed, an unsuspecting deer leapt over the wall and into the path of his vehicle. It is a wonder that Neil was not badly injured, though the deer did not fare as well.

The Peabody is one of our favorites. Inevitably, people will ask if we have seen the ducks that march down from their penthouse suite each morning at 11 a.m. to the hotel fountain, before quitting work at 5 p.m.

Tink was once an honorary duckmaster. I believe that Tink is prouder of that honor than he is of his primetime Emmy award for best drama writing.

Since my first stay, the rooms have been completely renovated no fewer than three times. And, I have often been there for some of the banging, nailing and sawing.

On our last trip, during Christmas, I noted a gold plate attached to the wood-paneled wall inside one of the elevators. It read: “Dedicated to Silas Harris for his 50 years of service to the Peabody.”

It has always been evident to me that the Peabody appreciates loyalty and often makes gestures like this. You have only to hear the chief duckmaster proclaim the names of those responsible for creating the much beloved legacy of the ducks, to know that.

But who, I wondered, was Silas Harris? I did an online search and found only one brief mention, an obituary that stated simply, “Silas Harris, April 21, 1941 to November 21, 2019.”

I was disappointed not to learn more, but I am most impressed to know that Mr. Harris was a dedicated employee to the Peabody for 50 years. As a result, he has been remembered with a plaque that will be viewed by thousands each year in that elevator.

This, I thought too, I will never have such a plaque anywhere to honor me.

That’s a big deal for Mr. Silas Harris. And, it says a lot for the loyalty of the folks at the Peabody Hotel.


Ronda Rich is a best-selling Southern author. Visit rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.

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