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A Brie Grows in Brooklyn

"Mabel's not crazy... she's unusual."

Icon of the Week: Ruth Ann Steinhagen

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It’s been a while since I’ve done an icon  post, but I’ve fully ceased to be interesting to myself, so I’m forced to turn to outside sources. Fortunately for me, I stumbled upon the obituary for Ruth Ann Steinhagen in The New York Times last week, who I immediately knew would make the perfect subject to be memorialized in one of my idiotic posts.

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Ruth Ann Steinhagen was both the most famous Ruth Ann ever to live in the 20th century, as well as the most famous stalker ever to become the subject of a Robert Redford movie. Born in 1929 in a small town in Illinois to German immigrants from Berlin, it was pretty clear from a very young age that Ruth Ann Steinhagen was not your average girl.

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Rather than spending her time watching her figure, or learning to bake, or dating boys from her high school, Ruth Ann spent most of her time obsessing over famous men. First, there was the screen actor Alan Ladd.

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Then, she moved on to the Chicago Cubs infielder Peanuts Lowrey, whoever the fuck that is.

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Finally, she settled on Eddie Waitkus, the star first baseman of the aforementioned Cubs, whom she first saw play in or around 1946, when she was 17-years-old.

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To feed her devotion, she did things like learn Lithuanian (Waitkus was of Lithuanian descent). She also ate baked beans (apparently one of the foods popular in his hometown of Boston). Unfortunately, none of these skills did her any good, because no one speaks Lithuanian, baked beans make you fart (too juvenile?), and she ended up in a fucking mental institution.

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To fuel her obsession, Ruth Ann built Waitkus a shrine composed of hundreds of photographs and newspaper clippings. She papered the walls and ceilings of her bedroom with his image. She frequently set a seat for Waitkus at the dinner table — he never came. At night, she sat on the floor of her bedroom, and gazed at photographs of him for hours. “Huh,” her parents said. “She’s a bit off.” In today’s world, they would have been like, “Let’s put her on Adderall.”

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Then, in 1948, Waitkus got transferred to the Philadelphia Philies, and Ruth Ann kind of lost it. “I knew I would never get to know him in a normal way, so I kept thinking, I will never get him, and if I can’t have him, nobody else can. Then I decided I would kill him. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I would kill him.”

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When Waitkus returned with the Phillies to play in Chicago on June 14, 1949, Ruth Ann was expecting him. She had booked herself a room at Edgewater Beach Hotel, where he was also staying. After the game, she tipped a bellboy $5 to deliver the following note to him:

Mr. Waitkus–

It’s extremely important that I see you as soon as possible

We’re not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain to you

I realize this is a little out of the ordinary, but as I said, it’s rather important

Please, come soon. I won’t take up much of your time, I promise

A woman would have gotten that note and been like, “Where’s my security team, I’ve got a nutjob lurking?” But a man, maybe with a few drinks in him, maybe with an itch that couldn’t be scratched alone, might have thought, “Easy lay?”

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Which is apparently how Waitkus felt, because around 11pm, he phoned Ruth Ann. She told him she was in the shower, but would he please come up in half an hour? Waitkus’s son later speculated that his father “thought he had a hot honey on the line.” Ruth Ann was like, “I have a surprise for you,” by which she meant, “I will fucking kill you.” When she hung up, she ordered a daiquiri and two whiskey sours, and sipped on them until Waitkus arrived. 

When he did come, he stormed through the door. Ruth Ann had been intending to stab him with a knife — instead, she went to the closet, and pulled out a .22 caliber rifle. “For two years, you’ve been bothering me, and now you’re going to die,” she told him. And then shot him through the right lung. Almost immediately after, she phoned the police. While she waited for them to arrive, she sat by Waitkus’s side, and held his head in her lap. He reportedly said to her, ”Oh baby, what did you do that for?” Ruth Ann, after all, was a good-looking girl.

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Waitkus ended up surviving the attack — and Ruth Ann, after being held by police for three weeks, was released into the custody of a count appointed psychiatrist. Waitkus didn’t press charges — it seems, by all accounts, that he had a good heart. He knew Ruth Ann was a very sick girl.

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The incident caused a media frenzy, but by the time Ruth Ann was discharged from the mental institution three years after the event, she had slipped out of public view. She died from a head trauma, alone in her house in Chicago, at the age of 83. The date was December 29, 2012 — she had slipped so far into shadows that the media didn’t pick up the story until March 15, 2013.

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For you, Ruth Ann Steinhagen.

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For not killing yourself, as you had intended, after shooting Waitkus.

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For calling the police immediately after the act, which saved Waitkus’s life. For stating that you tried to kill him “to do something exciting in my life.” For visiting him in the hospital the day after the shooting, at his bequest. 

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For schizophrenia. For sadness. For the life of a mentally ill person, never quite of this world. For you, Ruth Ann Steinhagen. You’re my Icon of the Week.

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