April 8, 2022 New Orleans, La.
AP News reporter Janet McConnaughey has an interest in Louisiana irises. She has reported on iris restoration projects over the last few years, so when she received word that Louisiana irises were discovered in the center of the US Park Service's Chalmette Battlefield it caught her attention. However, she became really interested when she learned that no one had known the irises were there until they were discovered by a Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) volunteer last year. Then, when word got out that it is believed that these irises are the remnants of irises that once grew in the gardens of homes in a 1960's era US government expropriated community that was in the center of the battlefield, named Fazendeville, she made a decision to attend an event organized by the US Park Service and LICI to learn more.
Photo: AP News reporter, Janet McConnaughey, (left of center in photo with satchel) is seen taking notes on April 2nd as Woody Keim, a great-great-grandson of the Fazendeville’s founder, tells the story of the Frazendeville community and it being torn down. He is also a producer of a TV documentary being filmed about the community, which dates back to the late 1800's.
The event was scheduled for April 2, 2022 to count the irises and to map their location as they were blooming for an inventory of plants being done at the site by the US Park Service. LICI partnered with the US Park Service for this project at their request because they thought iris aficionados would do a better job of finding the irises. They also appreciated our involvement in discovering the irises and our desire to move some of the irises closer to where the public can see them.
Kristy Wallisch, a LICI volunteer and retired US Park Service ranger, is heading up LICI's involvement in the project. She worked with the park staff to organize the event.
As everyone arrived on Saturday, April 2nd to do the count and mapping a storm blew in that looked like it would last for most of the morning. The event was canceled for the day. However, Janet was there, as well as other reporters who had gotten word of the story, so they decided to interview everyone involved while they were all in one place.
Photo: Storm clouds move in on the group gathering to do the iris count on April 2, 2022. After nearby lightning strikes and decision was made to postpone the event until April 6th.
Janet's story was put out onto the AP wire service that afternoon. You can find it by clicking here.
Her news article was picked up by media sites across the country. "We started getting emails within hours of the story's release and they continued coming in for two weeks afterwards", LICI board of directors and volunteer, Gary Salathe, said. He said the emails were from small-town newspapers to the national ABC News "and everything in-between". They also received many emails from all over the country by people that had read the article. "The story apparently had an impact on a lot of people in many different ways", Salathe says.
The volunteer event was rescheduled for the following Wednesday, April 6th.
Photo: On April 6th the weather was much nicer and the irises were at peak bloom.
This time other media reporters showed up including, Morgan Lentes, a local TV news anchor for NBC's New Orleans affiliate station, WDSU. She filed this report.
Photo: WDSU news anchor, Morgan Lentes, is seen interviewing Kristy Wallisch, a LICI volunteer that is heading up LICI's involvement in the project.
Also present that day was a staff photographer for NOLA.com, Sophia Germer, who filed this report.
Photo: Volunteers begin to arrive at the start of the iris counting and mapping event on April 6, 2022.
By the end of the day the irises were all counted. The preliminary estimate is that there were between 2,504-3,750 irises and 53-80 crinum lilies.
"We're really looking forward to seeing if the map that is created by the staff of the US Park Service showing the iris locations sheds some light on which homes the irises may have originated from. The plan is to overlay the map onto aerial photos they have of the community before the homes were torn down", Salathe says.
"I never, ever though my iris hobby would have a forensic archaeology aspect to it!", Salathe sums up.
Photo: One of the aerial photos that the US Park Service archives of the community of Fazendeville before it was torn down in the early 1960's.