Today’s topic is Monowi, Nebraska.
Monowi had a rather mundane start in 1902 when the land was suddenly connected to rail, and it was decided it was good enough to live off of. It was platted, a post office soon was established to serve the residents, and it was officially incorporated before 1902 had drawn to a close. Monowi then went through the same ups and downs, joys and sorrows of small town living that many towns of the era did, reaching a peak population of one hundred and fifty. But now it’s the only town in the entire United States of it’s kind…. Monowi has a rather odd name, with something of a story behind it. Much like that Chinese tattoo your friend gets when they’re drunk that they insists means “When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you” but may actually mean “Babylon is the world’s leading dictionary and translation software, press ENTER to translate“; no one actually knows what the town name of “Monowi” means. Past residents insisted it meant flower in an apparently dead Native American language, but no lingual authority on Native American languages has ever confirmed that the word means anything other than gibberish. Still, if Monowi actually does mean flower, it was a fitting name to give for the town, which lives in an area ideal for large fields of pretty wildflowers. But while the name may be a bit of an interesting story, it’s not what makes Monowi special.
The strangeness begins around the same time WWII was drawing to a close. The post war economy boom and promise of jobs in cities spirited all of Monowi’s youth away, as they rode off to larger towns on the very rail station Monowi had first been founded around. By 1960, the towns population was only forty people. By the time Y2K had come and gone, leaving wacky shenanigans and bunker related buyers remorse in it’s wake , the population was two people. Sadly, Rudy Eiler (One of the two) passed away in 2004, and his wife, Elise Eiler, was the only resident left. Rather than leaving, she named a library after him, and used his massive book collection to populate it. She was staying till the very end.
You may have heard of Monowi before. Known as “The Town With One Person”, it is essentially the worlds only township incorporated backyard. It has an area of just 0.21 square miles, and a single citizen. Yet the town has lived on. Like the Alaskan town that elected a cat as it’s mayor, Monowi is particularly interesting in how a single person is capable of filling every position of government at once within the framework of the American legal system. Some town data websites list Monowi’s government as just “Elise Eiler”.
Government: Elise Eiler
Yes. Like that.
Elise is the mayor, treasurer, librarian, director of public works, and sole business owner in the town. She is the youngest and oldest resident, the wealthiest and the poorest, the most and least educated, all at once. She dutifully pays her taxes, which instantly end up back in her bank account like a capitalistic ouroboros and as mayor and treasurer, she fills out then signs the paperwork to grant herself a liquor license so she can serve drinks at the bar she owns. She also manages the library she founded in memory of Rudy, and is involved in all interactions with the state government to keep Monowi’s only road and four street lamps in order. If Monowi ever had another child resident, they would have full access to the Lynch County school system. Just don’t expect a school bus to come by and pick them up.
Every year Elise must map a road plan for all four residencies and singular main road of Monowi, lest she lose the public road funding. Keeping these in tip top shape is important, because while Monowi may only have one permanent resident, it has many transients.
Normally, a town with one person would be a sanity eroding nightmare for anyone who didn’t have the soul of a hermit. Which is why it’s a good thing that Elise, who most certainty does not have a hermit’s soul, isn’t truly alone. As railways gave way to trucks, Monowi remained an important stop for shipping, and Elise’s bar does well for itself serving drinks to weary travelers and curious tourists alike, and her library is open for travelers to use. Various local newspapers make journeys there to check up on the status of the town, and each article spurs quite a few visits. Fake “redneck” (or impressively dedicated method actor, depending on your opinion of him) Larry The Cable Guy ended up bringing over a thousand people to the town for a cookout, and not only did Elise enjoy the company, but quite a bit of money was raised to support the town. So at least financially, the future of this wonderful little place is secured. But there are serious questions as to what will happen when Elise passes, as it is unlikely that the state would keep an incorporated town of zero. Maybe someone else will take up her place, tired of the constant paperwork and taxes and overtime hours of modern society, but still wanting the warmth of human interaction.
Only time will tell, but for now Monowi is going strong, and I heard it’s mayor won by a landslide last election cycle.
Next time on RUST AROUND THE EDGES, we will take a look at a place far more local to me; the only Amusement park ever founded solely to be ground zero for the second coming, “Jesus Land”, and it’s secretive order of Nuns.
Until next time: May you be well, may you be happy, and may you be free from suffering.