Sonnet Ireland grew up hearing stories about her Uncle Joe –– a bear-fighting poet who stood up to authority and always believed in the power of libraries. Joe Ireland was Sonnet’s godfather and the two were very close, but Sonnet never had the pleasure of knowing him when he worked for the New Orleans Public Library.
“I’m the baby of the family. My mom had me very late in life, and most of my cousins are at least a decade older than me. So, they would tell me stories about going to see Uncle Joe at the Library and how fun it was,” Ireland said. “But by the time I knew him, he was already retired.”
Joe worked at the Library for over a decade, including as manager of both Norman Mayer and Algiers Regional Libraries. His love for Algiers Regional in particular was strong, and he was always looking for ways to bring new people in. And that’s where the bear comes in.
“My whole life, we’ve always had a photo of him wrestling a bear, but I was never really clear on why or how it happened. All I knew was that it happened in a mall, and I guess I just always assumed, ‘Well, weird things used to happen at the mall, maybe that was one of them,’” Sonnet said, laughing. “I wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't had pictures.”
After years of wondering, Sonnet’s curiosity got the best of her, so she reached out to the New Orleans Public Library’s City Archives and Special Collections to see if they could help her piece the story together. Sonnet got in touch with archivist Brittanny Silva, who dove into the project, answering her question and helping her to reconnect with her beloved Uncle Joe, who died in 2012.
Read more about Sonnet, Joe, and how the Library's Archives helped solve an old family mystery here.