Ruthie the Duck Girl, a holdover from a time when colorful characters were as much a part of everyday life in New Orleans' French Quarter as beignets and cafe au lait, has died. She was 74.
Ruthie, whose real name was Ruth Grace Moulon, was an eccentric who zoomed from bar to bar on roller skates, often wearing a ratty fur coat or wedding gown and trailed by a string of her beloved ducks.
Moulon died of cancer Sept. 6 at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., to which she had been evacuated because of Hurricane Gustav.
She had cancer of the mouth and lungs, said Carol Cunningham, a close friend who had watched over her for nearly 40 years.
"I've always looked at Ruthie like a little bird with a broken wing," she said. "She was always so dear to me."
Moulon, a lifelong resident of New Orleans, was born Jan. 19, 1934. She 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, including 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, Moulon frequently sported a bridal gown and veil on her forays because, people said, she considered herself engaged to a man she met in New Orleans in 1963 when he was a sailor.
But when asked about marriage, she always answered: "I got engaged; that's enough!"
Moulon's daily routine consisted of roaming from one bar to another, mooching drinks and cigarettes. She could be sweet one minute and unleash a torrent of profanity the next.
"She's not out of touch with reality; she's just not interested," David Richmond, a photographer, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper.
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.