This Mayor, Bartender, and Librarian Is Her Town's Only Resident

The 88-year-old takes "wearing many hats" to a whole new level.

In Monowi, Nebraska, you can find the mayor, treasurer, clerk, secretary, and librarian all at the local tavern on any given day. As long as it's not Monday, because that's the day Elsie Eiler, who holds the responsibility of both tavern owner and all of the aforementioned titles, takes off.

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 that one, Eiler's life is unique, to say the least.

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In the 1930s Monowi was a relatively bustling railroad town of about 120 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. Those who stayed eventually passed away. When Eiler's husband Rudy died in 2004, she became the last remaining resident.

The 88-year-old opens Monowi Tavern at 9 a.m. six days a week. 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.

In 2021, locals, friends, and family celebrated Eiler for the tavern's 50th anniversary. The party was populated by the regulars who come from nearby towns and use the tavern as a sort of community watering hole where they play card games, show off baby photos, and talk about their families. The local support is so strong, Monowi Tavern survived the pandemic when other small businesses struggled.

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"Very seldom I spend much time in here by myself," Eiler told Eater. "Even now, there's always somebody coming or going. [The pandemic] didn't much affect me. It wasn't no big lockup or anything like that. It's stayed real busy and the locals are all very supportive."

Apart from operating the tavern — which she and Rudy 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 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.

There was some confusion in 2020 when the U.S. Census Bureau reported a second Monowi resident. But, it was only another Nebraskan the bureau added to the small village as a privacy measure for Eiler. So, while on the computer it looks as if Monowi's population has doubled, in actuality it's still just Eiler — and she wouldn't have it any other way.

"Each year I just renew my license and stay again," she told Nebraska Public Media. "I mean, basically…I'm happy here. This is where I really — I want to be here, or I wouldn't stay here."

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