Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  

One Person Census

Recommended Posts

One-person towns to Census: Count me in

Tiniest U.S. communities say their official population doesn't compute

APTRANS.gif updated 10:03 a.m. MT, Sat., March. 6, 2010

MONOWI, Neb. - The founding fathers must have chuckled at the impossibility of the job when they etched it into the Constitution2_bing.gif: Count every man, woman and child along every back road and big-city avenue in the entire country.

From Key West to Nome, today's Americans will largely get the founders' joke yet again as the U.S. Census embarks on its once-a-decade count this year — they're accustomed to approximations of how many people plod their shared corner of the world.

Why does it really matter, after all, that a Nebraska town comprised of a tavern, a few crumbling houses, four street lamps, and one drivable, dirt street be counted exactly right?

Story continues below ↓

Or even at all?

"Because I live in it," said Elsie Eiler, who is Monowi's entire population. Yet Census Bureau2_bing.gif estimates from this summer say that there are two Monowians.

"Where's this other person?" Eiler said. "Let me know. ... I don't want to come back to my house at 11 or 12 and see someone else there."

Others across the country who live in the tiniest of tiny towns, from Indiana river country to the wind-swept Wyoming plains, feel the same way as Eiler about census counts and estimates. Proudly holding onto their identities, with the line between existence and disappearance of their villages so narrow, they insist every person counts.

So they want them counted right.


Nate Jenkins / AP

Elsie Eiler stands near the bar and grill she owns in Monowi, Neb. A census estimate and the road sign outside town says the town has two people. But Eiler is the only resident.

One too many?

The Census Bureau2_bing.gif estimates that there are four incorporated towns with just one person. But when contacted by The Associated Press, residents in three of those places say they aren't the lonely souls the census says they are. The population of the fourth — Hoot Owl, Okla. — could not be verified by the AP.

"Who's that one?" said Thomas Saucier of Goss, Miss., one of the supposed one-person towns. "There's 50 right here in Goss!"

Told that some estimates of the country's most microscopic towns haven't gone over too smoothly, an official of the federal count got a bit chapped herself.

"We're doing the whole country," said Barbara Vandervate of the Census Bureau. "If we could do one state a month, it'd be much easier to count everybody."

And another thing: "If people don't answer the questions, guess what? They don't get counted."

A resident of one of the supposedly one-person towns — New Amsterdam, Ind., listed that way in the 2000 census and in last summer's bureau estimate — concedes that people there may have something to do with the statistical snafu. Mary Faye Shaffer cut the Census Bureau little slack, and said the town is bent on getting an accurate count this time around.

In the general store that she owns — the only business in town, unless you count "a bait shop that's there if they want to be there" — Shaffer tallies residents of New Amsterdam until she reaches 19.

She proudly mentions the couple who moved to town after retiring from Wal-Mart, and she brags about the beauty of the area, mentioning how she can see the scenic Ohio River from her backdoor.

But bring up the census, and her melodic Southern accent hits some sharp notes.

"It's embarrassing — 'You live in a town with one person?'" Shaffer says people say to her.

"People call here just because they think there's only one person. You wouldn't think the government would screw up this bad."

Minor mistakes look huge

There's not always someone around to fight an inaccurate count.

Take Erving's Location, N.H., said to have one resident in both the 2000 census and the estimate last summer.

"There's never been anyone there," said Sue Collins, county administrator for Coos County, N.H., who has lived in the area that includes the alleged town for 25 years.

Story continues below ↓

The Census' Vandervate said the bureau will try its best this year to rid the count of population ghosts that spook residents of the tiniest towns. But she acknowledges, as any reasonable person must, that there will be mistakes.

"And the minor mistakes," she said, "can look huge to people in a tiny place."

Back in Monowi, tucked in the rolling hills that abut the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska, Eiler sits in the Monowi Tavern where she sells beer for $2 a bottle and makes $2.50 hamburgers on a 35-year-old, four-burner stovetop.

She describes a previous battle with the Census Bureau2_bing.gif to be counted right: After the 1990 census, she wrote to the now-deceased broadcaster Paul Harvey, enlisting his help. He mentioned the miscount on his popular radio show.

But nothing changed.


Nate Jenkins / AP

A road sign outside Monowi, Neb.

Unique resident

Eiler became the town's only resident when her husband, Rudy, died six years ago. She lives in a mobile home2_bing.gif next to a library constructed in memory of her husband, and makes the short walk past a long-closed grocery store every day on her way to the bar. She stays until at least 10 p.m.

Besides bartending and cooking for regulars who are as unvarnished as the splintered, plywood floors in the bar, Eiler works on town business like the annual budget — about $500 a year, mostly the electric bill.

It's done at "city hall." That's an old desk at the end of the 30-foot bar, near a table where Bill Spelts has taken his usual spot.

Click for related content

U.S. census count kicks into high gear

Test your knowledge of U.S. facts and figures

Tell us about the changing face of America

There's plenty of beer seven miles down the road in Lynch, where Spelts lives. He comes to the Monowi bar, he says with a crooked grin and laughs from his cronies, "because the beer is 25 cents cheaper."

But the real reason he and the others show up day after day, year after year, is resting her head on her hand as she watches the bull fly.

"Because of Elsie," Spelts says seriously without looking at the woman to his left, Monowi's unique resident.


"Well, Toutousai...don't you think it's a pity for Tessaiga? All Inuyasha can do is wave about a sword with all his strength...it's the same whether it's a famous sword or a log."


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Create New...