Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Traveler's Chapel - Wall Drug in South Dakota

Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, the gateway to Badlands National Park, bill's itself as a traveler's way station. It was a lonely small town in 1931 when Ted and Dorothy Hustead opened a drug store there. After five years of little business the Husteads were about ready to call it quits when Dorothy had an epiphany: they needed to get all of the travelers passing by on Route 16A to stop for some reason. She came up with the idea of offering free ice water and putting up signs along the highway, spaced out at intervals, to advertise that fact. The idea worked beautifully and Wall Drug now occupies a full city block in Wall and employs a good portion of the town.

One of the big incongruities we experienced as we walked through Wall Drug, was a Traveler's Chapel set in between stuffed animal heads hanging on walls, carved Indian statues, a candy store, a book store, a boot store, etc. It seemed completely out of place and contrary to everything this block of kitschy merchandise stands for.
The Traveler's Chapel is proclaimed to be a replica of the chapel at New Melleray Abbey, a Cistercian (Trappist) monastery 15 miles south of Dubuque, Iowa. The New Melleray chapel is long, narrow and simple with red oak used in the choir stalls, doors, Eucharistic chapel and other furnishings. The altar is made of granite quarried in Minnesota. I look at a picture of New Melleray chapel, and compare it to the Traverer's Chapel and the similarities don't seem to me to go much beyond the long, narrow shape and the wooden beam ceiling. The wood may also be red oak. The altar is a wooden desk, not granite, and the light coming in from the outside is substantially diminished by many fewer windows.
The altar and front of the chapel as seen from the back.
The back of the chapel and entrance as seen from the front.
The desk/altar, cross and stained glass window.
Stained oak ceiling.
I would have expected St. Christopher, the traveler's saint, to be on exhibit, but I didn't see St. Christopher's presence. There are several plaques that mention Bill and Marjorie Hustead and their children. Bill is the son of Ted and Dorothy, the founders of Wall Drug, and apparently the one who established the chapel. There are some Byzantine style pictures of Jesus and Mary, a large wooden cross on the wall above the altar and a smaller wooden cross on the wall above the door.
Stained glass window above the altar.
One of the few side stained glass windows.

Open Bible on the altar/table.

One very nice thing about the chapel was that it was empty and quiet - very different from the bustling hordes of humanity milling about in the stores and halls surrounding it.

I've not been able to find anything about why the chapel was established. I find it intriguing. 


  1. We've been to Wall Drug a number of times and never stumbled across the chapel. Now we have a reason to go back (dang it!).

    1. While you're there, have a buffalo hot dog - they are delicious?

    2. After seeing the shriveled piece of leather they referred to as "hot dog", I think I'll pass on that one.

  2. I think this was a highlight, along with the bookstore across the way, of the Wall Drug complex. It's nice to think there is a "waystation" in the midst of all that unabashed commercialism.

  3. Not sure what to expect but I loved every minute of it . Plenty places to shop and find reasonable prices. Can't go wrong at the Wall.

  4. Do you do weddings in the chapel? Big fans been there many times...

    1. I was also wondering about getting married at the chapel