I can barely run my own life. 84-year-old Elsie Eiler? She runs an entire town.
We’ve all had at least one moment in life when we wished everyone would fade away. A life of quiet solitude where we could just live our own way without interference.
That moment may have been fleeting for you. For octogenarian Elsie Eiler, she lives it every day as the only resident of Monowi, Nebraska.
That’s right. Elsie is the sole survivor of a town that once held 150 hardy souls in America’s heartland.
Despite living in a town of one, Elsie’s life isn’t as lonesome as you may imagine.
Monowi is just a few miles from a few other small towns on Nebraska’s Highway 12, and people come through frequently to stop at the Monowi Tavern.
Unsurprisingly, Elsie owns the tavern, but she’s also the server, bartender, line cook, bus girl, and dishwasher.
Elsie grew up in Monowi and went to school at the town’s one-room schoolhouse where she met her future husband, Rudy. Unfortunately, Rudy passed in 2004 leaving Elsie to run the town on her own.
Now a library stands in Rudy’s honor. Naturally, Elsie is also the librarian.
Elsie is also the mayor, treasurer, and secretary. She holds elections every year, and every year she wins by a 1-0 landslide. Each year she completes a municipal road plan to get state funding, and she grants herself liquor and tobacco licenses.
Monowi was high on our list of must-stop spots in America
We’ve had Monowi on our shortlist of must-stop places for two years ever since we learned about Elsie and her town through this Country Living article.
(Dawn Googled something to the effect of “most unique towns in America” and that came up.)
Getting to Monowi proved to be quite the challenge. Springtime flooding of the Missouri River knocked out bridges in several small towns, and we had to detour nearly two hours out of our way just to try Monowi Tavern’s self-proclaimed “coldest beer in town.”
We finally arrived and were the only people in the entire town–except for Elsie, that is.
We walked around the town, which only took 5-10 minutes. There’s the library you already saw, Elsie’s residence behind that, the Monowi Tavern (white building above), and a brown building that’s falling apart. That brown building is an old grocery store, which proudly proclaims that Monowi is the home of the Nite Owls, a biker group that used to frequent Monowi Tavern every week.
With our exhaustive tour of the town complete, Dawn and I headed into Monowi Tavern and sat down at a table. We were starved after our lengthy detour and really needed a homecooked meal.
We weren’t going to be the only visitors for long. While we were enjoying our lunch, Elsie got a call from a friend about an hour away informing her that 40 hungry bikers were heading her way. Elsie called in reinforcements–a friend from the next town over–to get more burgers and buns.
Dawn and I offered Elsie our combined 19 years of serving experience, but she said she had everything well in hand. Instead, we chatted with Elsie for 15-20 minutes about both her life and the town’s history.
“World Famous” Monowi, Nebraska
Elsie is an international celebrity. As of this writing, she’s had visitors from 47 states and 42 countries.
Much of that notoriety is due to her appearance on Only In America with Larry the Cable Guy. Her town has even been featured in multiple nationally televised commercials.
The first commercial is for Arby’s, who wanted to announce that they now serve Coca Cola. Their approach was to create one ad spot that broke two Guinness world records: the smallest ad (engraved on a sesame seed) in the largest city (New York) and the largest ad (5-acre banner) in the smallest town (Monowi). Elsie is hilarious in it.
The second commercial is for Prudential. I’m not exactly sure what it’s selling, aside from a feeling of home and belonging.
You can’t leave without getting a picture with Elsie
Clearly, Elsie is a big deal. Meeting her has been on Dawn’s bucket list for the last two years, but I don’t think I quite understood how important this was to her.
Beginning when we walked through the doors of Monowi Tavern, Dawn barely uttered a word. She was completely starstruck. For just about the first time in the nine years I’ve known Dawn, she was speechless.
It was I who had to say, “Hey Elsie, do you mind if my wife gets a picture with you?”
As a camera-shy individual, I’m happy to play photographer. You’re welcome, Dawn.
Thinking of visiting Monowi, Nebraska?
Monowi, Nebraska is located on Highway 12 along the Missouri River near the Nebraska-South Dakota border. Here are a few tips when visiting.
Read up on road closures
Learn from our mistakes and make sure you read up on road closures in the area. Flooding knocks out bridges in the spring and summer, and detours might take you hours out of the way.
We had to ask a gas station attendant in the small town of Niobrara, Nebraska how to get around a closed bridge. He had to break the unfortunate news to us. Instead of an easy 10-mile drive up Highway 12, we had to detour 100 miles back the way we came to go up and around through South Dakota.
Don’t visit on a Monday
What’s there to do in Monowi? Honestly, not much. It’s Elsie and the tavern. That’s it. But be aware, Elsie closes the tavern every Monday, so don’t visit that day.
Stop at the gift shop inside the tavern
I love supporting small businesses and, in a way, they don’t get smaller than the Monowi Tavern!
If you’ve ever been to Monowi or a similar small town, tell us about it in the comments!