According to the 2010 US Census data, Monowi, a town located in Nebraska is the only town in America which has a population 1. Elsie Eiler is an 84-year-old woman and she is the town’s mayor, clerk, treasurer, librarian, bartender, among other functions.
She has mayoral elections every year in the tavern and votes for herself. The federal law needs her to produce a municipal road plan annually and pay $500 in taxes to keep the water and electricity turned on. She keeps up with the required paperwork to keep Monowi’s incorporated status and preventing it from becoming a complete ghost town.
“When I apply to the state for my liquor and tobacco licenses each year, they send them to the secretary of the village, which is me,” she told the BBC. “So, I get them as the secretary, sign them as the clerk and give them to myself as the bar owner. I’m happy here. I grew up here, I’m used to this, and I know what I want.”
Monowi has not always been like this and was a stop on the Elkhorn Railroad and had a population of 150 back in the 1930s. It also had 3 grocery shops, several restaurants and even a prison. Eiler grew up on a farm on the outskirts of town and met her future husband Rudy in primary school.
Rudy enlisted in the US Air Force and while he served in the Korean war, Eiler moved to Kansas City to pursue work with an airline. “I went to work for an airline with the dream of becoming a stewardess,” she told BBC. “I didn’t much care for the city; Monowi had always been home.”
Eiler was 19 when she married Rudy and the couple raised two children in the town. In 1971 they decided to reopen the tavern that had belonged to Eiler’s father. The town had already begun its decline by the time the tavern opened. After the WWII, rural economies collapsed and entire communities began to disappear from the US heartland.
The last funeral was held in 1960 for Eiler’s father in 1960 and then by 1970 the post office and the only remaining grocery store shut down. The school followed in 1974 and just a couple of years later both her children moved away to find work. The town population dropped down to 18 in 1980 and twenty years after that Rudy and Eiler were the only people living in the town. “We probably have the record by going down in population 50 percent,” Eiler cheekily told Reuters.
Even though she lives alone now, she says she doesn’t feel lonely. She opens the tavern at 9:00 am six days a week and spends 12 hours serving the regulars that she has known her whole life. “It’s like one big family,” Eiler said. “There are fourth- and fifth-generation customers coming in. It’s pretty neat when the people you remember as babies are now bringing their babies in to show me.”
There is another public building besides the tavern in the town of Monowi and that is Rudy’s library. Rudy was an avid reader when he was alive and it was his dying wish to convert his private collection into a public library. Monowi now has a small public library with a selection of over 5,000 books and magazine and Eiler acts as the librarian. A key hangs in the tavern for anyone who wants to check something out.
Rudy passed away some 14 years back and ever since then it has been the only town in the US to have a population of 1. However, visitors from all over the world have come and filled four guestbooks with signatures. Eiler has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“I know I could always move closer to my children or stay with them whenever I want, but then I’d have to make all new friends again,” Eiler said. “As long as I’m able to be here, this is where I really want to be.” You can watch the video below to learn more about it.