City remembers Rhythm Club fire today

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2000

Sixty years ago this month Sidney Fowler stood across from the Rhythm Club the night fire destroyed the popular nightspot. In all of 10 minutes, 212 people died. The Miss-Lou will pay respect to this loss today with a 5 p.m. service at the Zion Chapel AME Church parking lot on Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

&uot;That’s a tremendous sacrifice, and it should never be forgotten,&uot; Fowler said. &uot;It was a very important event among our people at that time.&uot;

Fowler lost many friends in the tragedy, but he especially remembers a neighbor who lived across from his home on Minor Street.

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&uot;I had a friend to get burned up in that fire,&uot; Fowler said. &uot;She was a young girl. She was a friend of my sister. That was her first dance.&uot;

On April 23, 1940, many people went to the club on St. Catherine Street to attend an annual barn dance. Walter Barnes and his orchestra of Chicago performed.

Fowler’s life was spared because he did not have the $2 needed to get into the dance that night.

Instead, he stood at the ticket window waiting for his sister, who was already inside the dance, to bring him some money.

Her life was also spared because her brother had called her to the door of the club to bring him the money.

She barely missed being hit by a marquee as the fire took over the building, Fowler said.

Fowler has written down some of his memories of the night and may read them at tonight’s program.

&uot;Bodies were laid out at Mackel’s Funeral Home garage. I didn’t sleep at all that night,&uot; Fowler wrote.

The Natchez Club of Chicago placed a memorial to those who perished in the fire on the Natchez bluff in the 1940s, Fowler said.

The Natchez Business and Civic League has held a memorial service each year around the anniversary of the fire.

The service usually takes place on the Natchez bluff but had to be moved to the church this year because of stabilization work on the bluff.

Business and Civic League Peesident Hardin Wallace was about 16 at the time of the fire, but he did not attend the dance.

&uot;I was tired that night. That’s the only reason I didn’t go,&uot; he said.