7 Fascinating Local Characters

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In response to the post How to Be a Local Character, mental_floss readers contributed many names of characters who found fame in cities across the country and around the world. Some of these fascinating people have a strong presence on the internet, carrying their notoriety to a greater audience. Here are seven of them.

1. The Duck Lady

Ruthie the Duck Lady was Ruthie Grace Moulon of New Orleans, Louisiana. She was born in 1934, and after attending kindergarten, never went to school. Instead, she walked or roller-skated the streets of New Orleans followed by the ducks she raised. Ruthie's family helped create the persona of the Duck Girl and promoted her notoriety. She sold postcards of herself for a quarter or three for a dollar, never understanding why her pricing scheme didn't make sense. The Duck Lady was a regular at French Quarter bars beginning in the 50s. She met a sailor named Gary Moody who became a pen pal, although Moulon couldn't read or write. She considered herself engaged to Moody, and would sometimes wear a wedding gown on her bar rounds. Moulon had a large circle of friends who made sure she had a place to stay and her basic needs taken care of. The Duck Lady died on September 6th, 2008.

2. DJ Nitetrain

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Boston, Massachusetts has DJ Nitetrain, who spins music, sometimes music only he can hear, as he entertains people on Boston's commuter trains. His real name is Jerry Holloman, born in 1964. His passions are riding trains and roller coasters. Holloman's dream is to someday take a cross-country train trip. See more at his MySpace page.

3. Blanket Man

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Ben Hana of Wellington, New Zealand is better known as Blanket Man because he wears only a loincloth and a blanket. He has been a homeless resident of Wellington since 2001 and says his dress (or lack of it) is a religious gesture to the Māori sun god Tama-nui-te-rā. Hana has been arrested many times, often for marijuana possession. In late 2008, a judge ordered him to start wearing underpants after an arrest for indecent exposure. A documentary about Hana, Te Whanau O Aotearoa - Caretakers of the Land, is available online in four parts. Image by Jubalj.

4. Zanta

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David Zancai is known to the citizens of Toronto, Ontario as Zanta. He does pushups wearing only shorts, boots, and a Santa Claus hat. In 2000, Zancai suffered injuries from a 25-foot fall. He spent time on life support and in a coma, then worked hard to build his body back up, mainly by doing pushups. He receives a disability check due to his injuries. Now he does thousands of pushups every day. He first wore a Santa Claus hat to amuse his daughter at a custody hearing, but Zancai was thrown out of court when he refused to remove the hat. See a documentary film called Zanta: The Movie. Image by Matt O'Sullivan.

5. Shaky Jake

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Shaky Jake Woods was a busker in Ann Arbor, Michigan for 34 years. He wore a three-piece suit, hat, and dark sunglasses while playing guitar and telling tall tales on the downtown streets. Woods' guitar was often out of tune and the guitar had missing strings, but the people of Ann Arbor loved him. He received free breakfast from a local diner and often free lunch at various restaurants. Shaky Jake was 82 years old when he died in 2007. Watch a video about Shaky Jake.

6. Leslie Cochran

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Leslie Cochran is the most famous local character in Austin, Texas. Cochran is a former truck driver from Florida who is now a cross-dresser and homeless advocate. He ran for mayor in 2000, when he collected almost 8% of the vote. His races in 2001 and 2003 were less successful. He can be seen around town wearing pantyhose and high heels. See more pictures at his MySpace page.

7. Radio

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James Robert Kennedy is better known as Radio around Anderson, South Carolina -and the rest of the world, thanks to the 2003 movie about him, in which he is portrayed by Cuba Gooding, Jr. Kennedy was in an auto accident at age five that left him brain-damaged. He attended school at TL Hanna High School, but could not read or write. In fact, he is still attending at age 61. Kennedy developed a friendship with coach Harold Jones and the various athletic teams, who consider him good luck. Jones became a father figure to Kennedy, a relationship that continues after Jones' retirement. The school website has a page dedicated to Kennedy that says,

He has a permanent smile on his face. He is never without his ability to shake hands and hug necks. He returns exponentially whatever love is given to him. And here the irony rests. He gives back much more than he has received.

In 2005, the South Carolina General Assembly honored Kennedy and Jones with a resolution commending their inspirational lives.

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This post was inspired by the news that Popcorn Sutton, the East Tennessee  moonshiner featured in the previous post, committed suicide on March 16th. He was to report to prison on the 20th. Speculation is that the sentence and his recent diagnosis of cancer led Sutton to fill his car with exhaust fumes which caused his death.

Other posts in this series:

How to Be a Local Character: 5 Basic Examples had characters from Memphis, New York City, St. Petersburg, FL, Lexington, KY, and Maggie Valley, NC.

9 Wonderful Local Characters featured folks from Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, St. Louis, St. Cloud, MN, and Adelaide, Australia.

7 More Unforgettable Local Characters has colorful characters from Peoria, IL, San Marcos, TX, New Haven, CT, Wheeling, WV, Ocean City, MD, Omaha, NB and Montreal.

6 of Your Favorite Local Characters profiles people you've seen in Seattle, Austin, Madison, WI, Jacksonville, NC, and one you are too young to have ever met from San Francisco.

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March 26, 2009 - 3:59am
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