Interpretive Center plans announced

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NATCHEZ — To commemorate the 209 lives lost in the Rhythm Night Club fire 68 years ago, a local nonprofit organization has announced plans to open an interpretive center.

Delissa Development Corporation has been awarded a $50,000 Community Heritage Preservation grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to restore a defunct nightclub on Martin Luther King Jr. Street — in close proximity to where the Rhythm Night Club once stood on Jefferson Street.

Dr. J.R. Todd Jr., president of Delissa Development Corporation, said the interpretive center will be in the old Club Delissa building, a “juke joint” that was popular in the area years ago.

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Good Hope Construction, LLC, of Natchez, will lead the restoration project. The project’s first phase is expected to begin this week, said Todd, lead physician at Natchez Rural Health Clinic, Inc.

“We’re restoring a building that’s of no value whatsoever and we’re giving a permanent place to tastefully remember the people who were in the fire,” Todd said.

“There were 209 stories there and 209 stories to be told.”

On April 23, 1940, an overflow crowd had come to hear the Walter Barnes Orchestra of Chicago perform at the Rhythm Night Club when the fire erupted. The tragedy is thought to be one of America’s most deadly fires.

Todd said he plans to contact a handful of survivors and witnesses to record their stories.

“We’re going to start contacting them within the next month,” he said.

The interpretive center will have artifacts from the Rhythm Night Club on display. However, Todd is not collecting artifacts at this time.

“What’s going to be there is going to have to be determined by what’s available,” Todd said. “We’re not ready to collect artifacts because we don’t have a secure place.”

The restoration project is slated to be complete in 90 days.