Meet Elsie Eiler, a majority of one in a ghost town
When compiling a list of must-see tourist attractions in America, many locations and monuments spring to mind. One that very few people are aware of, but will likely find to be fascinating curiosity, is the village of Monowi in Boyd County, Nebraska.
Monowi already has one claim to fame – it’s officially the smallest town in America. With a surface area of 54 hectares (or 540,000 square meters, if you prefer), the entire town is roughly the size of 50 football fields. It sounds like quite a squeeze for the population, right? They must be living on top of each other.
That may be the case in most towns, but Monowi has another unique quality. It has just one resident – 80something Elsie Eiler, who acts as the mayor, librarian, town clerk, and bartender.
Ms. Eiler is also a strict law-abiding citizen who completes a tax return every year and pays it to herself to support the upkeep of the town. She even votes for herself every time her tenure as mayor is up for renewal. As you may have guessed, the solitude of Monowi means that she runs unopposed.
Can tourists visit Monowi?
Monowi is found in northern Nebraska, around five miles from the South Dakota border. It’s not hard to spot. Just clamber atop a hay bale at the top of the dirt road that begins in the nearby prairies, and you’ll have a perfect view. One thing should be noted, though – it’s not exactly a spectacle to rival Niagara Falls.
Monowi is essentially a ghost town, and as a result, most of the buildings are dilapidated and derelict. A run-down and disused wooden church is one of the first things that anybody sees.
It appears that, while Elsie Eiler wears many hats, a woman of the cloth is not among them. Ironically, that last service hosted in the church that the funeral for her father. That was way back in 1960.
This isn’t to say that Elsie Eiler – and, by extension, the town of Monowi – is hostile to visitors. Elsie opens the Monowi Tavern six days per week and serves several regulars that visit from out of town. This fosters a community feels in the town, and Elsie Eiler is the matriarch of a unique and curious family.
If you’re not a drinker, there’s one other activity in Monowi to amuse visitors – the local library.
Until 2004, the town was bustling with two residents. Rudy Eiler lived with his wife until his death and helped her run the tavern (which, in turn, was previously owned by Elsie’s father.)
A voracious reader Rudy’s dream was to use his collection of reading matter to create a library, converting an old shed.
While he passed away before this could come to fruition, the couple’s children and nephews stepped into wire lighting, build shelves, and create “Rudy’s Library.”
What happened to Monowi?
Monowi wasn’t always like this. Back in the 1930s, the town was filled with hustle and bustle. At its peak, it boasted over 150 residents, a working railway, and a thriving farming industry.
Sadly, things petered out not long after this. The lifestyles of the American public changed with the birth of supermarkets, and Monowi’s farming industry suffered. The town underwent an exodus, and more and more people moved out.
By the 1980s, just seventeen people called Monowi home. As age claimed, these residents, just Elsie and Rudy, were left. Eventually, Elsie became the sold resident.
This is not necessarily unique to Monowi. Some territories in Nebraska suffered a similar fate, though Monowi remains unique in its population of one. The closest rival is nearby Gross, which is around a 30-minute drive away. This isn’t a town for those that enjoy the quiet life, though. The streets of Gross are heaving with two full-time residents.
How much longer with Monowi survive?
There is no easy way to say this but aged 84 at the time of writing, Elsie Eiler is closer to goodbye than hello. Her determination to keep Monowi alive is admirable, but eventually, she’ll be unable to fly the flag any longer.
Elsie has two children, one of whom has expressed an interest in moving into the town when she’s no longer around. Elsie herself has her doubts that this will be a viable option, though, explaining that, “I don’t think it’s possible.
I’ve had so many things grandfathered in for me; it would not be very beneficial for someone else.”
Running Monowi indeed takes work. The tiny town still needs to abide by the law of the land. For example, Elsie applies for a liqueur license from the state authorities to keep her tavern running.
She applies as the town’s secretary, then signs the relevant paperwork in her guide as the town clerk. Once this is done, she’s ready to present to herself in yet another role as the owner of the bar.
Elsie also needs to advertise the vacancy of a mayor, and provide the state of Nebraska with a road plan to maintain funding. On top of this, she also pays taxes to the town from the proceeds of the tavern to keep the water and electricity supplies.
Elsie Eiler has two children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. These family members check in on her regularly, and some of them even live in Nebraska.
This means that, should she ever grow weary of the solitary life, she has options to move away.
Despite this, she has no plans to leave Monowi. She says, “I’m happy here. I grew up here, I’m used to this, and I know what I want. It’s hard to change after so many years.”
This dedication to her hometown is admirable. Many people pack up and move on to start a new life when the going gets a touch, but not Elsie Eiler. If you’re ever in Nebraska, pop into the Monowi Tavern and say hello. She’ll welcome the company, and you’ll experience a unique interpretation of the American Dream.
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