Oct. 31--It felt like a freight train was barreling through the historic 100 Men Hall, which has stood since 1922 as a landmark in Mississippi's African American blues history.
Owner Rachel Dangermond, who also lives on the property, said Hurricane Zeta's winds were so powerful that the living room doors were blowing in, as if "some huge person" was trying to get inside.
In the morning, the damage to the blues hall was almost overwhelming. Half the roof had been torn off, with pieces scattered around Bay St. Louis's depot area and behind St. Rose De Lima Church. The damage to the ceiling hadn't been significant enough to let water in, but a film of silt or dirt had fallen from the attic during the storm. Debris surrounded the building.
"All of it is so mind-boggling that I'm inside cleaning, because that's what I can do," Dangermond said on Thursday morning.
Hurricane Zeta was the latest blow in a challenging few years for the hall, which Dangermond purchased in 2018. The facility hosts concerts and events and relies in part on visitors from New Orleans. In 2019, the blue-green algae that closed Coast beaches kept many of those visitors away.
And in 2020, well, "we all know how that's been," Dangermond said. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings, they've had no revenue since February.
Weathering the storms
But as Dangermond is quick to point out, the hall's entire history is one of resilience.
The hall's story begins in 1894, when 12 Black residents of Bay St. Louis formed the One Hundred Members' Benevolent Debating Association. The group cared for members when they were sick and assisted with funerals when they passed away.
In 1922, they started building the Hall, and it has stood in downtown Bay St. Louis ever since. It was a place for Black residents to celebrate life events, from weddings to baby showers to funerals. And, most notably, it became a stop on the Chitlin' Circuit, the set of clubs and theatres where Black musicians could perform in the early 20th century, when Jim Crow laws kept them out of white venues.
The slate of artists who performed at the hall reads like a slate of the most influential American musicians of the last century, from Ray Charles and Etta James to James Brown, Sam Cooke and Fats Domino.
The building survived Hurricane Katrina, though not without heavy damage. It might have been demolished, but a couple named Jesse and Kerrie Loya bought and restored it, turning it back into a performance and event venue.
Today, it is one of the few surviving physical landmarks on the Mississippi Blues Trail.
"We're devastated, but you know, this hall is all about resilience," Dangermond said. "It was built by a group of people living under Jim Crow. Despite all these odds, we'll get through it."
Dangermond said she doesn't know yet how costly it will be to repair the damage from Zeta, which includes everything from the roof being ripped off down to the lettering outside the hall. She does know that her insurance deductible for wind damage is $10,500, a huge sum for the business.
On Friday, a friend from New Orleans was bringing a tarp to cover the gaping hole in the roof. Dangermond was going to ask Jesse Loya, the former owner, to help restore the hall's busted-out antique windows.
The hall has a concert planned for Nov. 13: Grammy-nominated blues musician Cedric Burnside and Alvin Youngblood Hart.
The concert was always planned to take place outside, to keep it coronavirus-safe. Right now, Dangermond said, the yard "looks like the Devil's playground."
But she was planning to do everything she could over the next two weeks to get ready.
"We're going to get this place cleaned up," she said. "Whatever we need to do to make that happen, we're going to do. All we have to do is pray to the weather gods."
Visit the 100 Men Hall online: https://the100menhall.com/
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