As the one and only resident of Monowi, Nebraska, Elsie Eiler is the town’s mayor, treasurer, clerk, secretary, tavern owner, librarian, and default mediator if any disagreements arise at the bar.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Monowi is the only incorporated town, village, or city in America with a population of one. And as its sole resident, Eiler’s life is unique to say the least. The 84-year-old opens Monowi Tavern at 9 a.m. six days a week (after a battle with colon cancer in 2011, she’s decided to grant herself Mondays off). She serves burgers ($3.50), hot dogs ($1.25), and beers (the "coldest beer in town," claims the sign posted on the wall) to tourists curious about her one-person town. Thus far, she’s welcomed visitors from 47 states and 41 countries and counting. But mostly she spends her time with regulars who come from nearby towns to use the tavern as a sort of community meeting place where they play card games, show off baby photos, and talk about their families.
Eiler jokes that being the only resident of a town does have its perks. For one, she doesn’t have any competition when she runs for mayor each year, winning by a landslide every time. As she told Reuters, "I‘m the whole thing. There’s no need for any elections because I’d be the only one to vote."
Apart from operating the tavern, which she and her late husband, Rudy Eiler, bought in 1971, she also runs the town library, a 320-square-foot shed that houses some 5,000 books that once made up Rudy's private collection. Now, anyone who wants to browse the shelves and borrow books or magazines is welcome to on the honor system.
While many of the smallest communities in the U.S. have shrunken until they've dissolved, Eiler is determined to keep Monowi incorporated, dutifully completing all of the paperwork to do so. As the only taxpayer in town, Eiler collects $500 from herself to keep the town’s three lampposts lit with electricity and the water flowing. She’s also required to create a municipal road plan every year to secure funding from the state of Nebraska. And, when she applies to the state for her liquor and tobacco licenses each year, she signs them herself as the town secretary, and gives them to herself as the bar owner.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. In the 1930s Monowi was a relatively bustling railroad town of 150 with several businesses including grocery stores, restaurants, and even a prison. But gradually, as farming conditions worsened and jobs were lost to automation, people started moving away in search of greater opportunity and those who stayed eventually passed away. When Eiler’s husband Rudy died in 2004, she became the last remaining resident — but she hasn’t dreamed of moving.
“I really don’t have any desire to live anywhere else. I’m perfectly happy right where I’m at now,” she told the BBC. "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."
"Hopefully I will be able to stay here. It's where I want to be," she said.
So don't feel too bad for Eiler, as she stays in Monowi by choice. In fact, we could learn a thing or two from her about living happily in the moment. As she told Country Living, "I get asked, what happens when you're gone? 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."