Heart of Louisiana: Lafitte Museum

Published: Apr. 16, 2014 at 2:33 AM CDT
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LAFITTE, LA (WVUE) - Until recently, anyone traveling to the town of Lafitte to learn about the famous pirate would have had a tough time finding any connection to Jean Lafitte.  But a new museum is putting some of that pirate lore on display. In tonight's Heart of Louisiana, FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to southern Jefferson Parish, where you can learn about pirates and pirogues and fishing and trapping in the town of Jean Lafitte.

Bayou Barataria is the lifeblood of the town of Jean Lafitte. It's where a pirate of the same name moved his contraband from the Gulf of Mexico to the markets of New Orleans. It's a highway for fishermen and trappers, and it's where the town has crowned its pirogue racing champion since the 1930s

"That's the big one," said race champ Malcolm Leblanc, pointing to a trophy. "You've got to win three years to get one like that."

Leblanc Sr. has won the big trophy.  In fact, since he started racing in 1954, he has been the pirogue race champion 11 times.

"If you want to win, you've got to practice," he said. "Every time I was in shape, I never did get beat."

Some of that pirogue racing history is on display in the Lafitte Barataria Museum.  The exhibits also connect with the pirates, lead by Jean Lafitte.  You can see weapons and cannon balls that would have been used by the privateers, and the remains of a schooner - perhaps part of Lafitte's fleet - that was pulled from the waters of Barataria.

History buff Ed Perrin has found that his great-great-grandfather was among the Baratarians who served with the infamous coastal pirate.

"There is a journal that supposed to have been Jean Lafitte's journal, and he had three lieutenants," Perrin said. "But on the list it's called 'guardians,' and one of those was John Emanuel Perrin."

For generations, most of Lafitte's residents have depended on hunting, fur-trapping fishing and shrimping. Decades ago, trappers targeted the muskrat, followed by the nutria.

"When I was a kid, daddy would go out and buy muskrat, and we would kind of share our bedroom with the muskrat," said seafood buyer Leo Kerner III. "And when he felt it was time to see, us kids would get together and brush them and wipe them off, and then he would sell them."

Kerner grew up in the business.

"Fishing and trapping at one time, people didn't need to worry about anything else. It was such abundance of it," he said.

"My daddy was a shrimp fisherman all his life," said shrimper Gareth Leblanc.

Leblanc - and now his sons - have worked all of their lives on shrimp boats.

"Now I think that you have some of the best fishermen on this by you right now that they ever had," Leblanc said.

Here, you can see how families and the community thrived on fur and fishing. We drive by swamps and marshes all the time, but behind the museum in Lafitte, you will find this new boardwalk that lets you step inside the swamp.

The mile-long trail weaves its way through moss-draped cypress.  You see the seasonal blooming of native flowers, and you can quietly search for the wildlife that live in the shallow water, among the trees and palmettos.  The natural side of this town is also part of the story, where families lived off the land and water, and where pirates were seeking their own fortunes two centuries ago.

In addition to the Barataria Museum and the wetlands trace, you can also visit the Jean Lafitte National Park, which has additional boardwalks and trails for exploring wetlands and forests.

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