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. It caught her attention when Janet received word that Louisiana irises were discovered in the center of the US Park Service's Chalmette Battlefield. However, she became very 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 word got out that it is believed that these irises are the remnants of irises that once grew in the gardens of homes in the 100-year-old community of Fazendeville. The US government expropriated the thirty houses on the single street in the center of the battlefield in the early 1960s to combine the battlefield with a nearby national cemetery. Janet decided 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's 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.
US Park Service was working on an inventory of plants at the battlefield. LICI partnered with the US Park Service for this project at their request because they thought iris fans 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 them closer to where the public can see them. An event was planned for April 2nd, 2022 to count the irises as they were blooming and to map their location.
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 US Park Service canceled the event for the day. However, Janet was there, along with 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, the US Park Service personnel postponed the event until April 6.
AP put Janet's story out onto their wire service that afternoon. You can find it by clicking here.
Media sites across the country picked up her news article. "We started getting emails within hours of the story's release, and they continued coming in for two weeks afterward," 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 from people who read the article. "The story impacted many people in many different ways," Salathe says.
The group decided to reschedule the volunteer event for the following Wednesday, April 6.
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 looking forward to seeing if the map being created by the US Park Service staff 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 of the community before the homes were torn down", Salathe says.
"I never thought my iris hobby would have a forensic archaeology aspect!" 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.