NATCHEZ (AP) – For 70 years, remembrances of the 209 people killed in the fire at the Rhythm Night Club in Natchez have been limited to a historical marker, a small annual ceremony and a few scattered newspaper clippings.
Now, the history is preserved in a new museum in Natchez.
The Rhythm Night Club Museum celebrated its grand opening Saturday.
The yellow building and a historical marker now sit where the Rhythm Night Club burned to the ground on April 23, 1940. The fire broke out after a discarded match or cigarette reportedly ignited the decorative Spanish moss that was draping the ceiling of the club.
The flames overtook the building, while panicked concert attendees darted for the only exit. The windows were boarded up to keep unwanted guests from sneaking inside.
The fire resulted in 209 deaths, including Chicago bandleader Walter Barnes and members of his orchestra. The fire is ranked as the seventh deadliest in U.S. history.
Natchez residents Monroe and Betty Sago worked for months on the museum, which was dedicated in April.
The museum contains numerous exhibits regarding the fire that were donated to the Sagos by survivors and relatives of survivors.
“Many people were affected by the fire,” Betty Sago said. “Life must go on, but we must never forget where we came from. They have a place in history.”
Betty Sago said the importance of remembering a tragedy such as the fire at the Rhythm Night Club is to keep the story alive.
“Without the stories, once the survivors are gone, the history is lost,” she said.
Sago said the tragedy brought from the fire did help bring some good to the area and the nation.
“There is always a silver lining,” she said. “Fire safety codes changed throughout the country after this incident, and that has helped saved many lives.”
The Associated Press