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Residents reflect on historic fire

Polly Blowe, left, and Gloria Young explore the Rhythm Night club during a 75th anniversary gathering of the April 23, 1940 fire that killed 209 people.  (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Polly Blowe, left, and Gloria Young explore the Rhythm Night club during a 75th anniversary gathering of the April 23, 1940 fire that killed 209 people. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Community members gathered Saturday to remember the tragic Rhythm Night Club Fire, which took place 75 years ago in Natchez.

Longtime Natchez resident Lillian Noble visited the Rhythm Night Club Museum Saturday with her husband, Richard Noble Jr., to honor her sister, Carrie Woods Gaylor, who was one of the 209 victims who died in the fire.

“I was 9 years old when the fire happened,” Noble said. “Coming here today brings back a lot of memories.”

While a marker commemorating the fire was placed on the Natchez bluff, the fire actually happened at 5 St. Catherine St., the home of the museum.

“We are hoping that one day they will be able to get the marker and move it to this spot,” Noble said.

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield attended the event as the keynote speaker. He recalled developing an interest in the Rhythm Night Club when he was growing up here.

“As I grew older and started interacting with other people in town, I started hearing these stories about people who were lost in the fire,” Mayfield said.

He said the event Saturday was not to celebrate the tragedy, but to memorialize it.

“This is a landmark that needs to be put out to the public so when people come in town they can visit this,” he said. “I want to do whatever I can to get this out.”

During the event, Cathedral senior Carleigh Combs, 17, was awarded with a $500 scholarship for writing a research paper on the Rhythm Night Club Fire.

“I’m so appreciative. It’s such an honor,” she said. “I remember coming here when I was 14 and I never heard about it before. It was such a tragedy and people need to know about it.”

Combs said she had to emphasize the positives of the fire and what it did for the U.S. in her research paper.

“The silver lining of this tragedy is that it changed the fire codes,” she said.

The change in the fire codes saved lives around the world, Combs said.

Monroe Sago, who owns the museum with his wife, Betty Sago, said the outpouring of guests honored him.

“It felt like a summer day,” Sago said. “I hope those who attended learned something very educational and safe. I think everyone left here today with a peace of mind about what happened here on April 23, 1940.”