Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Local Legend Passes On...

Ruthie the Duck Girl dies of cancer at 74 by John Pope, The Times-Picayune Friday September 12, 2008, 10:36 PM Ruthie the Duck Girl, a French Quarter eccentric who zoomed from bar to bar on roller skates, often wearing a ratty fur coat and long skirt and trailed by a duck or two, died Sept. 6 at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge. She was 74. Ruthie, whose real name was Ruth Grace Moulon, had been suffering from cancer of the mouth and lungs when the residents of her Uptown New Orleans nursing home were evacuated to Baton Rouge as Hurricane Gustav approached, said Carol Cunningham, a close friend who watched over her for nearly 40 years. “I’ve always looked at Ruthie like a little bird with a broken wing, ” Cunningham said. “She was always so dear to me.” Miss Moulon, a lifelong New Orleanian, became a French Quarter fixture, achieving legendary status in a city that treasures people who live outside the mainstream. Along the way, she acquired a coterie of people like Cunningham who found places for her to live, paid her bills and made sure she got home at night. A tiny woman with a constant grin, she frequently sported a bridal gown and veil on her forays because, people said, she considered herself engaged to Gary Moody, whom she met in New Orleans in 1963 when he was a sailor. Moody showed up at a 2001 birthday party for Miss Moulon at Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘N Bowl, but the two never got to the altar. According to a Times-Picayune interview that year, Miss Moulon had a stock reply whenever anyone asked if there might be a wedding in her future: “I got engaged; that’s enough!” In 1999, Rick Delaup made her the subject of a documentary, “Ruthie the Duck Girl.” Miss Moulon’s daily routine consisted of roaming from one watering hole to another, mooching drinks and cigarettes. She could be sweet one minute and unleash a torrent of profanity the next. Although people deemed Miss Moulon’s behavior unconventional even by French Quarter standards, no one ever diagnosed her mental condition because she refused to see a doctor, David Cuthbert wrote in The Times-Picayune in 2001. “She’s not out of touch with reality; she’s just not interested, ” photographer David Richmond told The Times-Picayune. Miss Moulon’s mother, who put her daughter’s hair in sausage curls to make her look like Shirley Temple, came up with the idea that little Ruthie should be a duck girl, Cunningham said. “She dressed her in evening dresses and bought her skates, and she skated through the Quarter with these little ducks following, ” Cunningham said. Miss Moulon’s mother, who grew up in rural Louisiana, initially let the ducks live in the house, although the two women sometimes fought over them, according to On that Web site, Myrl D’Arcy, an artist, described a visit to the house: “The duck’s living in the bathtub, and the mother wanted to take a bath. Ruthie didn’t want the mother to take the duck out of the bathtub because it would upset the duck.” In the documentary, artist George Dureau recalled a conversation with Miss Moulon after the death of another French Quarter character, Eloise Lopez Arollo Samakintos, who always carried a cross through the Vieux Carre. “There ain’t a whole lot of us left, George, ” she said. A Mass will be said Monday at noon at Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home, 3827 Canal St. Visitation will start at 10 a.m. Burial will be in Greenwood Cemetery. reposted from the Times-picayune. Original post and comment thread here. On a personal note: I only encountered Miss Ruthie twice. The first time, I entered Lucille’s Golden Lantern to meet my girl friend of the time, whose roomate worked there. As I walked in, they were all sitting at one side of the horse shoe bar, facing a small woman in desheveled clothing. The room was silent. As my eyes were adjusting to the dark, I sat down on the empty side of the bar, not far from the woman in question. The others all went wide eyed, and Ruthie launched into a diatribe, at the top of voice, beginning with, “you're ALL FUCKING WHORES…” I fled. Years later, I cut to the front of the line at the Dungeon, to see what the hold up was, and to see if my friend was working the door. As I entered that little alcove in the front, the hulking doorman held a finger to his lips and went “shhhh!”. Behind him, Ruthie stood on the little bridge, letting her duck swim in the tiny flow of water below. We waited patiently, and after a while, she left, whispering a quiet, “Thank you” to the doorman on her way out. You are now and forever a Legend of the French Quarter, Miss Ruthie. Knock ‘em back in line, wherever you are.

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