Natchez commemorates Rhythm Club fire with monument

By The Associated Press

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — A five-foot high monument has been placed at the Watkins Street Cemetery in Natchez to remember the unknown victims of the Rhythm Night Club fire.

The Natchez Democrat reports that the monument was a coordinated effort of local businesses and organizations. The groups worked with Monroe and Betty Sago with the Rhythm Night Club Museum and the Worthy Women of Watkins Street Cemetery to design the monument.

On April 23, 1940, a fire ignited the decorative Spanish moss that draped the ceiling of the club. Flames engulfed the corrugated metal building, and hundreds of patrons ran to the only exit. The windows were boarded shut to keep unwanted guests from sneaking in. Officials say 209 people died in the fire.

Monroe Sago says after the fire, about 60 victims who could not be identified were taken to the Watkins Street Cemetery and were buried in a mass grave.

Monroe said museum patrons often ask about the mass grave at the cemetery. He said without a grave marker, it was difficult to point people who want to visit the grave in the right direction.

“This is a wonderful thing, and it ties the museum and the grave together,” he said.

A Rhythm Night Club memorial is located on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.