Isle of Capri raises $2,700 for Rhythm Night Club memorial

Published 12:03 am Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat Natchez — Monument employees Brad Pace, Wesley Martin and Danny Porter install the five-foot tall monument in the Watkins Street Cemetery in memory of the Rhythm Night Club Fire victims buried in the cemetery.

NATCHEZ — Through a coordinated effort of local businesses and organizations, the unknown victims of the 1940 Rhythm Night Club fire will soon be forever memorialized in Watkins Street Cemetery.

The staff of the Natchez Isle of Capri Casino raised $2,700 for a monument to be placed at the unidentified victims’ mass grave in the cemetery, General Manager Tony Scudiero said.

The casino worked with Monroe and Betty Sago with the Rhythm Night Club Museum and the Worthy Women of Watkins Street Cemetery to design a monument for the victims.

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Monroe said he and his wife provided pictures and history of the nightclub for the monument. After the fire, he said, approximately 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 is 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.

But the Isle of Capri’s involvement with the cemetery goes beyond just the monument.

After a moving story of nightclub tragedy from local resident Thelma White, Scudiero said his staff decided to assist the cemetery in upkeep of the graves and cuts the grass in the cemetery twice a year.

The casino also got involved, Scudiero said, with the Sagos’ brick program to pave the walkway at the nightclub museum. The Isle of Capri sponsored a brick in the casino’s name, as well as bricks for others who could not afford them and a scholarship for an assistant at the museum.

“I’m very proud of my team members, I think this is such a worthy cause that has been long overdue,” Scudiero said. “I hope somehow this reaches a lot of folks and finally gives recognition to the victims.”

The Sagos agree the monument is long overdue.

“(The mass grave) has been out there almost 73 years, and nothing has gone up there,” Betty said “I think it’s a wonderful thing that Tony and his staff thought enough of the community to support something of this nature.”