When the census bureau got the records back from Monowi, Nebraska in 2010, they must have been pretty surprised.
The town officially became America's smallest recognized municipality, with just one single, 76-year-old women living in Monowi's only occupied dwelling. Seven years later, Elsie Eiler is now 83, but she's still the last person left in Monowi.
The town was always on the small side, but in the heyday of the Missiouri Valley railroad there were up to 150 people living in the town, mostly working in the cattle business. Over time, as jobs dried up, people moved to the city. There were only 18 people in Monowi by 1980, and soon Eiler's own children moved away to find work.
Eiler and her husband Rudy grew up in Monowi, and while they lived in Omaha (the nearest big city to Monowi) they left the hustle and bustle for their childhood home, where they opened up a tavern.
In 2000, Rudy and Elsie were the last residents of Monowi. When Rudy passed away in 2003, Elsie became the only person in town. "I get lonely for my kids," she explains, "but I don't get lonely. I have too many interests and old friends."
Monowi itself is a 0.2 square mile ghost town, with just a handful of buildings still in use. The nearest community is 7 miles away, and the nearest Walmart is 60 miles away. There was a post office, but it closed in the 1960s. Even so, letters still find their way to Elsie.
It's not easy being the only person in town, but it's not as hard as you'd expect either. Eiler is the town mayor, and so she pays taxes to herself. Eiler grants herself a liquor license when hers runs out, and she draws up a street plan every year, so the state of Nebraska keeps the power running to Monowi's four street lamps.
For pretty much everything else, Eiler depends on her "neighbors," who could live as much as 20 miles away. And for a town of one person, her work sure keeps her busy.
There is a snow plow, but Eiler says by the time it gets to the tavern a local farmer has already cleared her parking lot.
That's just how things are in such a small town: Elsie's "regulars," who drive as far as 80 miles to visit her tavern, help her out in any way they can.
Aside from Monowi Tavern, where the barbecue is fresh and there's always somebody looking to play pinochle, the town's main attraction is Rudy's Library. Dedicated to Eiler's late husband, the small building is stacked to the ceiling with 5,000 books.
And although there's not much to see in Monowi, Elsie says the town has no shortage of visitors. "I see people all day long, coming and going, strangers and regulars. When I go home at night, I'm perfectly happy to have that time to myself," she says.
Tourists regularly make the 200 mile trip from Omaha to meet Eiler, and she's recorded visitors from 47 states and 40 countries. The media tries to visit Eiler pretty regularly too, but she enjoys the privacy when she can get it.
“I don't understand it," she says about all the attention, "but I've met so many good people,"
Despite being Monowi's "only" resident, it seems like Eiler isn't lonely at all. "When you get out in an area like this, people 20 to 40 miles away are considered neighbors," she says. "We're like one big family. If anything happens, they're there to sympathize with you."
And what will happen to Monowi when Eiler passes away?
"That's not my worry. I believe in living each day and not worrying about down the road. I'm going to enjoy it while I am alive."
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