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And then there was one

Monowi SignWelcome to Monowi, Nebraska. Population : 2

Except for one small problem. When Elsie’s husband Rudy died a few years back, nobody bother to update the sign … the irony being that if it’s anybody’s job … it’s hers.

For Elsie is the one-woman town of Monowi. She draws up a yearly budget … which she then approves herself. She has to post up notices of any changes to the town … when she is only person that could argue against them. The population of which had been dwindling away over the years, and she’s watched them go – as she carries on with her business at the Monowi Tavern. For 38 years she’s been working the bar, making dinner, and generally being a ‘hub’ of the community in these parts.

What ‘community’ you might ask? Well out in the wild plains of Nebraska – where there is no cell phone coverage, Elsie is an essential stopping off point for people to relay messages, get the latest news and gossip and find out what’s going on in and around the surrounding villages.

She lives in a trailer a few yards behind the bar. Between that and the tavern, a library … “Rudy’s Library” which she named after her husband passed away of cancer in 2004, just short of their 50th wedding anniversary. People from far and wide come and donate books, borrow others – all on trust, no need to sign up and return them to the tavern when they’re done. Outside, the outside – paid for by donations made by a motorcycle club who come through here often, and the rusty mailbox of Elsie’s … the last one left in town.

We’re the only customers in town when we pull up just after 1pm on Monday afternoon, and as I eat my grilled cheese, Elise pulls up a chair to sit and chat with us and spend some quality time just talkin’, and it’s lovely.

Monowi Tavern

Elise became a bit famous, a few years back when CBS made a TV short about her, and ever since then she’s had travellers coming down to this off-the-beaten-path-location just to check out her tavern.

“Does it get annoying, having all these people coming by like us, now that you’re famous?” I asked, grinning, knowing that she doesn’t consider herself famous. “What’s that?” she says “I can’t understand you funny English and your accents!” and chuckles at her own joke, before going on to tell us that they only thing she does find annoying is answering the same old questions that she got asked by all the journalists that came by. I try very hard to think of some new and interesting questions that she may not have been asked before.

And it’s not hard, because Elsie is a delight to talk to. She shows us black & white photos from over fifty years ago when the town was more prosperous – a railroad used to run through here, but the tracks were pulled up in the 1970’s. My favourite photo of hers was from a July 4th ballgame when all the local farmers gathered in the fields of Minowi to play – the year? 1912. One of the grain mills in the photo is still standing today.

ElsieShe also points to a large beautifully frame photo on the wall from five years ago of her and her husband. “He knew he had the cancer” she says with a little sadness in her eye. “And we knew that there was nothing we could do about it. Still you carry on and enjoy life while you can”, and you could hear the genuine love in her voice.

I cut in, before it gets too sentimental and ask if she’ll sign my t-shirt. I feel like it would be too intrusive to get her on video, so we politely snap some photos instead, photos of local children and families adorn the walls, pictures of previous parties at the tavern. Notices of garage sales taking place in adjoining villages.

It’s beautiful, it’s quaint, and it’s everything a two person – sorry – one person town should be. There will be a census in the town in 2010, and the state may then come by and update the population after that. I hope Elsie’s still there, because another little corner of unmodernised America will die when she goes.

6 responses to “And then there was one”

  1. geofftech says:

    I can’t find the video, but I did find the CBS new story here:

    I also quite like the list of places with less than ten residents in:

  2. tami says:

    I have to keep those less populated places in mind if I want to retire and get away from it all! That is sooo interesting.

  3. Raineth says:

    These bits and pieces of history just seem to fade away, after the folk who upkeep the stories die. It seems to me that the rich, savory goodness of grand tales of “I remember when/when my granddad was young” are turning into stories that are no longer considered to be delightful & treasured– or, horror of horrors, understood.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I find it to be rather depressing, sometimes.

    Bless her heart, I hope she passes on as many stories as possible in her lifetime…

  4. geofftech says:

    I’m starting to think that there are MORE places like this out there – but we just don’t know about them.

    The major/overwhelming feeling for me this week has been “Get off the interstate”. Get onto smaller roads and see what’s out there, and there are loads and loads of little places left still out there, independent shops & stores and none of the chains that you’re used to.

  5. Katie says:

    Great blog. Elsie sounds like a wonderful lady. Makes you rethink your own struggles when there is a lady out there who lives in a town all by herself! How sad.

  6. MumTina says:

    As I commented before, you are tasting what life used to be like in the ‘old’ days, before T.V. mobile phones, the Internet, and people really cared about each other and not material goods. As Raineth says all this fading fast. In the future however, you will remember your time now as ‘the good old days’ and the youngsters will laugh at your wistful reminiscencing. I hope this trip is giving you food for thought and improving your mind.

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