Ask anyone in Thermopolis about the Swastika building and they will tell you that it ain’t what it seems. The building was built in 1917. The “Swastikas” are reversed and were included in the architecture as a peaceful message to the neighboring Shoshoni tribe who have used this symbol for a millennia. All of this may be true but it is still not hard to see why this building might run people the wrong way.
Even more surprising is that several businesses adjacent to the Not Exactly A Swastika Building have menorah stickers prominently displayed on their doors. On Tuesday night, around 6 PM and at the height of the tourist season, all but one of those businesses were closed. The one employee at that business had no idea what a menorah was. When shown the sticker affixed to her window, the elderly woman explained that there “are not a lot of people of that religion” in the town but that the owner of the building was in fact “someone of that religion.” I told her that I was actually one of those people of that religion. She thoughtfully nodded her head at me then suggested the stickers were put on to make that one Jewish businessman happy. I walked out confused.
Later at Hot Springs State Park we met a very cool local who also thought the menorah stickers were a way to make that one Jewish businessman feel welcome. Hmmm…. Interesting. But that answer still did not feel quite right.
The next day we asked a few more locals about the menorahs. First thing we discovered is that everyone in town knows that this one business is owned by a Jewish couple from New York City. After that though the stories became a bit muddled. One person thought it was part of a fundraiser. Another knew it had to do with a chalk art festival. None of these answers really made a lot of sense.
During lunch at a local cafe we finally heard a story that felt true. A local eccentric once sketched out in chalk a few stock symbols of the Jewish faith with the word “repent.” This message was drawn in the general vicinity of that one Jewish businessman’s store. In a show of solidarity the surrounding businesses affixed menorah stickers to their doors. Later they were invited over for a Hannuakah dinner where they took turns spinning a dreidel and lighting a menorah. And that my friends is the Miracle of Thermopolis.