Friday, October 10, 2008

. . . and A Duckmaster

I wanted to entitle this entry: "A Curator, a Captain, a Conductor, and . . . (but Duckmaster did not fit the C's)

Before talking about our new campsite, I want to take care of some old business. For those who follow the blog, you will remember my asking if anyone could identify the object in the Museum barn at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. Well, Katherine Prince, Curator of the Heritage Center was kind enough to send a note in which she identified the object as a cream separator. I have up-dated the entry of October 3, but I wanted to make a special entry acknowledging Ms. Prince’s answer to the question. I don’t know how she found us, but there have been others who drop in for occasional “visits,” and we really enjoy hearing from them.

We arrived yesterday afternoon in Memphis--West Memphis, Arkansas to be precise. Our campsite overlooks the Mississippi River, and Kate swears that Agatha Christie was purring “Old Man River” last night and that Adler meows to the tune of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”

After unhitching; hooking up water, electricity, and sewer; and putting out the slides, we sat on the banks and watched towboats and barges moving America.

There was a sameness to their work, but variety to their size, speed, and sound. With the sound of the engines or the horn, we were drawn to imagine the size and the number of barges being pushed as each group came into view in the distance.

Kate grew up on the Mississippi (Clinton, IA), so this was a return to her roots, but this procession was new to me.

As we watched several barges pass by, we both were mesmerized by the rhythmic sound of the engines and the skill of the towboat captains as they navigated their boats and from 2-10 barges through the channels and the bends in the river. The slow pace of moving cargo somehow just seemed right.

It was a warm afternoon, and sitting on the benches placed along the banks seemed like the perfect way to spend the afternoon, evening, . . . and night.

When we visit new cities, we usually take advantage of multiple-day passes on trolleys or buses to introduce ourselves to the city's main sights and to learn "what's where." We began today by picking up the Main Street trolley at the Visitors Center in Memphis. There we met conductor Mr. Jafar-Banian.

We talked about the trolley car (1923 model, imported from Milan, Italy when their line was discontinued), Elvis' first home (just behind the Marriott Hotel off Main Street), the oldest restaurant in town (the Arcade), and restaurants. He is from Iran, a Muslim, and has visited many countries in the world. His wife of 20+ years is a Christian, from Mississippi, and had not left her small hometown until meeting him. All in a 35-minute ride with other passengers coming and going.

We planned to watch the Peabody (Hotel) ducks waddle through the lobby on their daily walk to the fountain. At 10:55 a.m., they leave the Duck Palace on the roof and head to the elevator under the watchful eye of the Duckmaster. They descend to the lobby and hustle down a red carpet past a surprisingly large crowd to the fountain. I had a nice angle (row 5 of the crowd, behind two rows of children sitting on the floor and two rows of adults sitting in chairs) to take a photo of the ducks hopping the steps into the water. As the ducks approached, the two rows of adults rose, and I photographed their heads while my camera was raised above them. Zilch.

We spoke to the Duckmaster later and learned that he is Jason Sensat from Hatfield, PA (30-45 minutes from Wycombe). He advanced from duck trainer to Duckmaster by "being in the right place at the right time."

He explained that "the ducks arrive here from a farm that raises wild ducks. They receive one week of training, spend three months entertaining hotel guests and visitors walking to (11 a.m.) and from (5 p.m.) the lobby fountain, and then return to the farm at which they live out their lives as wild ducks."

And to think this 75-year tradition began as a practical joke when two hunters returned from an unsuccessful hunting trip in Arkansas and left their live decoy ducks in the hotel lobby while they slept off a night of over-imbibing in some of Mr. Daniel's finest. Not only were the ducks still there the next morning, but the crowds gathered around the fountain loved the idea of ducks in the fountain.

In 1940, Bellman Edward Pembroke, a former circus animal trainer, offered to help with delivering the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke became the Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 1991.

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