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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Major American Fires: Rhythm Club Fire

This is a guide to resources at the Illinois Fire Service Institute Library and online that discuss major American fires.

General Resources

Rhythm Club Fire: Introduction

The Rhythm Club Fire occurred on April 23, 1940 in Natchez, Mississippi; around 209 people were killed and over 200 were injured. All of the victims were African Americans. The club was a long, narrow building with corrugated iron walls and roof. All the windows had been boarded up to prevent people outside the club from entering or watching a performance through the windows. There were only two doors, both near the front of the building; one was locked. Walter Barnes and his Royal Creolians were performing to a crowd of over 700 people when the fire broke out near the entrance around 11 p.m. The club's decorations included Spanish moss hung from the ceiling, which had been sprayed with Flit, a petroleum-based insectiside. The moss quickly ignited, and the building's metal construction prevented the heat from leaving the building. Many people were able to excape through the front door, while others pushed toward the back of the building, where they were unable to escape because there was no exit. 

Resources at the IFSI Library

These links take you to the IFSI catalog. To request an item, click "Add to Request Bin." This takes you to a page where you can fill out the online request form and submit to the IFSI library. To request items, you must be an Illinois resident with a library card from an Illinois library.

Online Resources


This is the trailer from the Rhythm Club Fire documentary. It presents some basic facts about the fire.

Contact IFSI Staff

For Information, Assistance, or User Training Contact:

Phone: 217-333-8925 or Toll Free: 800-437-5819

Fax: 217-333-8379 (Library) or 217-244-6792 (IFSI)


Library Hours

8:00 am – 5:00 pm

Monday – Friday


Head Librarian

Lian Ruan:

Reference & User Training Librarian

Diane Richardson:

Assistant Director for Library Operations

David Ehrenhart:


Libguide created by Elizabeth York