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Apr 23 Rhythm Club Fire

October 12, 2019

Your Natchez History Minute is brought to
you by Natchez National Historical Park. On the night of April 23 in 1940, 209 people,
all African-Americans, perished in a fire at the Rhythm Night Club in Natchez, Mississippi. The one-story dance hall was once a blacksmith
shop, a church, mule stable, and a coca cola bottling company, located just blocks from the city’s
business district. That night, the hall was packed with many people who had come to hear
the music of Walter Barnes and His Royal Creolians orchestra from Chicago. This event was hosted
by the Moneywasters Club. The rafters of the interior of the club had
been festively decorated with Spanish moss which had been sprayed with a petroleum-based
insecticide called flit. At approximately 11:30 p.m., a fire quickly
engulfed the structure. Due to the dry conditions, the treated moss
generated flammable methane gas. The windows and the back and side doors of the building
had been boarded up to prevent outsiders from viewing or listening to the music. The crowd
was trapped. Many of the people were able to escape through
the front door and through knocked out windows but many died from smoke inhalation or were crushed
by the crowd. Bandleader Barnes and nine members of his
band were among the victims. Local funeral homes were overwhelmed and many
victims were buried in mass graves. The Rhythm Club fire was the first recorded night
club fire and today, is ranked as the fourth deadliest on record in U. S. history.
In August, 2010, the Rhythm Club On-Site Memorial Museum opened in Natchez, commemorating
one of our country’s most horrific disasters. Hi, we are Betty and Monroe Sago, owners and
operators of the Rhythm Nightclub On-Site Memorial Museum, and this has been your Natchez
History Minute.

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