Mississippi October 29, 2017
One Of The Worst Disasters In U.S. History Happened Right Here In Mississippi
Music has played a huge role in Mississippi’s history. Unfortunately, it’s also linked to a horrific state tragedy that will never be forgotten – the Rhythm Nightclub Fire. The Natchez disaster took place decades ago, and is still considered one of the deadliest fires in the world.
Referred to as "The Natchez Dance Hall Holocaust," the deadly fire took place at the Rhythm Nightclub in Natchez on Tuesday, April 23, 1940.
The club had an abnormally large crowd for a Tuesday since the famous Walter Barnes Orchestra from Chicago was set to perform that night.
To this day, the cause of the fire is still not known; however, several factors contributed to the severity of it.
Prior to the concert on April 23rd, Spanish moss was used to decorate the interior of the club. Since the moss commonly has bugs in it, it was sprayed with a highly flammable insecticide, which ultimately caused the fire to rapidly spread and quickly engulf the entire building.
Once the fire broke out, panic quickly set in as attendees realized they were basically trapped.
In an effort to keep out anyone who hadn’t paid to attend the concert, all of the windows along with the back door were nailed shut – essentially leaving only one way in and out.
As 746 frantic people tried to file out of the only exit, the band played on.
Trying to keep the crowd calm and prevent a stampede, Walter Barnes instructed his band to keep playing. While the music played, Barnes spoke calmly over the microphone, urging the crowd to exit in an orderly manner. Sadly, all of the band’s members except for Walter Brown and Arthur Edward passed away in the fire.
It’s estimated the fire began around 11 pm; however, the fire department wasn’t notified until about 11:15 pm.
According to records, firefighter Richard Walcott was one of the first to get word of the fire. As he barreled toward the nightclub, he could hear screams of terror from those trapped inside. Walcott got to the scene in less than 1 minute and was quickly jointed by more volunteers, who began frantically working to put out the blazing fire. Several firefighters tried to make their way into the still-burning building to help those trapped; however, this was quickly deemed impossible after one firefighter reported "running into a huge pile of bodies" while trying to search for survivors.
When the blaze was out and firefighters were finally able to enter the torched building, they came across a gruesome sight.
Just as described, there was a large pile of lifeless bodies in the middle of the club. Sadly, that wasn’t the only ghastly discovery made. It was later determined that, when sprayed with water, the nightclub’s steel walls produced a large amount of steam, which scalded many of those trapped inside.
The day following the fire, dozens of people headed to the Rhythm Night Club desperately trying to find out if their loved ones were among the 209 casualties.
According to reports, many of the victims died from "a combination of smoke inhalation and oxygen deficient atmospheres." Sadly, several of the bodies were so severely burned that they couldn’t be identified.
In order to keep alive the memory of those who lost their lives in the fire, a historical marker has been set up near the original site.
The city of Natchez also holds an annual memorial service to commemorate the victims.
Learn more about the horrific fire in the video below.
Mississippi is no stranger to tragedy. Read about a state disaster of another kind in “
A Massive Blizzard Blanketed Mississippi In Ice In 1994 And It Will Never Be Forgotten.“