Ruthie the Duck Lady was walking down St. Peter Street with a little black duck waddling behind her. When the reached Bourbon Street she paused, turned to the duck and said, “You wait here.” Apparently the duck did not understand and, crossing the street, was run over by a NOPSI bus. A crowd formed around the moosh of feathers. Back marched Ruthie. Shaking a finger at the former duck, she scolded, “I told you to wait.”
Ruthie is one of those rare individuals you encounter briefly, then remember long after you have forgotten your sixth grade teacher. Like the St. Louis Cathedral, a postcard has been made of Ruthie and one of her ducks. She has become a part of the mystique of New Orleans. When visitors come, they often ask for “Jackson Square, Antoine's, and the Duck Lady.”
The Duck Lady lives “way up on Elysian Fields” with her mother, a woman even shorter than Ruthie, who is about four feet eight inches tall. She has a brother who is known for his wild Mardi Gras costumes. He was the first member of the Moulon family to be seen with contingents of ducks waddling behind him. It was from him that Ruthie got the idea of having pet ducks. We asked Ruthie what she likes about ducks.
Ruthie: I like to raise ducks.
Community Standard: Do you own a lot of ducks?
Ruthie: Yes, a lot of ducks.
Community Standard: Did you ever have a favorite duck?
Ruthie: Oh, yeah, a white duck.
Community Standard: What was he like?
Ruthie: A little duck.
Community Standard: Why do your ducks follow you around?
Ruthie: 'Cause they're little baby ducks.
Community Standard: Where do you get them?
Ruthie: I get them by the pet shop.
We learned that all of Ruthie's ducks are named for policemen she knows here in the Quarter. Ruthie has many friends on the police force and whenever there is a special mass at the St. Louis Cathedral for policemen, she is sure to attend.
Community Standard: Do you ever watch police shows on TV?
Ruthie: No. I like cowboys.
Ruthie was born on January 19. Every year, Carol Cunningham, owner of Carmen's Praline and Gift Shop at 626 Chartres (where Ruthie works) throws a big party for her. Photographs from these parties are taped to the wall. Policemen, bartenders, shop-owners, and a variety of other local people attend. Ruthie is popular in the Quarter, and when we asked her what it is she likes about the Quarter, she answered, “Some people are real nice around here. I get along with them. They're my friends.”
Community Standard: Do you have a special friend?
Ruthie: Yeah, Carol [Cunningham].
Community Standard: How did you meet her?
Ruthie: I met her in the Alpine. Sometime I have occasion to go in there. [The Alpine is a German/Creole restaurant next door to Carmen's. There are no ducks on the menu.]
Community Standard: If someone were serving cooked duck, would you eat it?
Community Standard: Would you eat chicken?
Ruthie: I love chicken.
Community Standard: Fish?
Ruthie: Mmmm, mmmm.
Community Standard: Do you ever eat pralines?
Ruthie: Not me. I don't like pralines — too hard for me.
Community Standard: What do you like to do when you want to have a good time?
Ruthie: Just go dancing.
Community Standard: Where?
Ruthie: Oh, nowhere, just around, when I don't got the dog.
Community Standard: What kind of dog?
Ruthie: Oh, a brown dog.
Community Standard: Do you like fast or slow dances?
Ruthie: Fast dances.
In the evenings she marches through the Quarter going from one night spot to another, often followed by a duck or her little brown dog. She dances, poses for photographs, and autographs postcards of “Ruthie the Duck Lady.”
Community Standard: Do you like to be famous?
Ruthie: Yes, I like to be famous.
Copyright © 1974–2008 Henry H. Mitchell.