Born in the French Quarter as Ruth Grace Moulon, Ruthie was known for roller skating, sometimes in a fur coat or a wedding gown and veil, from bar to bar bumming smokes and drinks. She spent most of her life accompanied by at least one duck and people would donate baby ducks to her every Easter. Her mother had raised her with the idea that the ducks would make her a local celebrity and that people would pay for her photographs and she wasn’t wrong.
Every town has its “lady with the cats.” Los Angeles has Angelyne, the woman in pink bondage dresses adorning billboards. But the French Quarter has nurtured many kooky characters like Ruthie’s nemesis, Lucky Bead (a scary woman with beads and curses), and Pops, who made a living dancing in the street and sticking out his tongue. But Ruthie took it all to a whole new level with blinky lights on her button-covered hat, a “Fuck off and die” button pinned to her get-ups, a duck by her side and skates on her feet.
As Chris Rose said, “Ruthie came to epitomize the unregimented, unconventional and permissive side of Vieux Carre culture, the kind of insouciant charm that has seduced thousands over the years and burned, in those who paid attention, a memory of street life unlike anywhere else in America, maybe the world.” She told fanciful stories of being engaged to a sailor she’d met in 1963 but the truth is, though Gary Moody was married half a country away, the two exchanged letters and she remained the most exciting person in his life as a farmer. They were reunited in the Rick Delaup documentary and it was kind of weirdly wonderful to ride around the city on a carriage with them.
The film was released in 1999 and I’d been meaning to see it for years. You can purchase it HERE. Ruthie passed in late 2009 at the age of 74. For many, it was the passing of more than just a woman living on and off the streets of the Quarter, it was the end of a type of character that could only be bred and raised in that tiny part of town. Ruthie was often petty and perhaps even racist, but she had an amazing ability to bring out the very best in people. It’s truly a wonder to witness.
Afterward, we wandered the crowded streets to the crawfish boil set up in front of Rouses on Royal. There was a stage set up and Harmonouche played while we waited in line for a $30 platter. I’ll admit I felt a bit stupid walking away from the Fest so early in the afternoon. I missed Los Po-Boy-Citos, Lillian Boutte, Hot 8 Brass Band, Rockin’ Dopsie, Colin Lake, Glen David Andrews, Susan Cowsill and my beloved Little Freddie King among dozens of other talented bands. And all for free!
When I lived in L.A., I used to tell people that the secret to life was knowing what to say “yes” to (my wisdom was – say yes to things that take you closer to your goals). It only took a couple of months of living in New Orleans full time to realize that here – the secret is knowing when to say “no.” So we took our crawfish home and called it a weekend. I hope those record crowds ate and drank themselves silly. Those sales support the free Fest.
If you missed the first 3 action packed days, click THURSDAY, FRIDAY and SATURDAY to enjoy dozens of bands from Dr. John to PJ Morton and Rebirth Brass Band to The Dixie Cups as well as tasty dishes from some of the region’s best restaurants.