I’ve long been interest in small towns facing unique circumstances in isolation. I wondered what might be the smallest town, not just some guy living in a shack by himself but an actual recognized, incorporated town. From there I found an old post from the misc.transport.road newsgroup (remember Usenet?). It explained that the question isn’t as straightforward as it seems on the surface as every jurisdiction defines "town" in accordance with its own rules. This complicates the answer.
Another problem presented itself. There’s a very obvious reason why many towns have extremely small populations: they are dying. It’s like asking, "who is the oldest person on earth?" Well, it keeps changing because the oldest person is always a heartbeat away from passing to the great beyond. It’s no different for a town of one or two residual inhabitants. I learned, as I checked into the list, that many of the featured sites had also passed along to the great beyond. They are ghost towns today. The list had been based on the 2000 United States Census. No doubt it will look completely different as the Census Bureau slowly releases complete details from the 2010 tally.
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There are probably numerous formally-recognized municipalities in the United States and beyond with a population of one. The best example I could find was Monowi, Nebraska. The 2000 Census actually listed two inhabitants, Rudy and Elsie Eiler. Rudy passed away in 2004, halving the town’s population, and left the widow Elsie to serve as Monowi’s "mayor, town clerk, town treasurer, town secretary, tavern keeper and chief librarian."
It’s a typical rural story. Monowi started as a small farming town that peaked with more than a hundred inhabitants in the early 20th Century. People began to peel away as family farms declined and as opportunities for easier lives presented themselves in nearby cities. Monowi distinguishes itself from countless other broken heartland towns only because a single resident continues to stand resolute against its inevitable fate.
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Hold on, now. Monowi may yet survive.
I kept coming across references to Larry the Cable Guy and a visit he and a camera crew made to Monowi in September 2010. More than a thousand people descended on Monowi as part of a fundraiser to help restore the town, particularly its library. No doubt this was the largest and most significant single event in the history of Monowi.
He was there to film a segment for an upcoming television series on the History Channel called "Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy" which is to debut on February 8, 2011. I checked preview videos and identified snippets of footage clearly shot in Monowi but I couldn’t determine when the actual Monowi segment will air.
Interestingly, as I discovered during my research, Larry the Cable Guy is a stage persona. The actor is actually Dan Whitney, a native of Pawnee City, Nebraska which perhaps helps explains his interest in Monowi. He comes by the rural background honestly but the southern accent and redneck affectation is a fiction created for his character. Questions of whether Larry the Cable Guy embodies the original concept of the History Channel brushed aside, I’ll be sure to watch any episode that features a geo-oddity. My wife has long accused me of being both high-brow and low-brow simultaneously, with nothing in between. A high-brow concept with a low-brow comedian won’t scare me away necessarily.
This gives me hope that someday I might be able to pitch a purely geo-oddity show to the History Channel or one of its ilk and find a way to get paid to travel to my favorite obscure locations. Maybe I could team up with Larry the Cable guy. Could you imagine our irreverence at the Phineas Gage Monument?