It’s happy hour inside the Double K Bar in Lynch, Neb., population: 271. Save for the blaring TV showing a Western, the bar is quiet and mostly vacant. Two plaid-shirted men settle in for Saturday night at a front booth, and the bartender washes glasses with a towel.
The two beer drinkers are big guys—members of a motorcycle club called the Nite Owls—with beards thick as a gob of cotton candy. Their club’s headquarters is seven miles up the road in a once-upon-a-town called Monowi, Neb., population: 1.
In the one-person town there is one bar, Monowi Tavern, where the Nite Owls meet before long rides. There is one abandoned hilltop church and one library, the size of a middle-class family’s living room. Along what used to be Main Street—now a tall-grass jungle—one pale blue two-story house is still standing in spite of its shattered windows and imminent dilapidation. In its would-be yard, there is a tricycle missing a wheel and a basketball hoop with a crusty net—the only reminders that these sad structures were once warm homes with freshly cut backyards. Caved roofs and craters in the floors have victimized other ghost homes. In one, a ’70s-style Kenmore stove is falling into the earth among glossy, scattered magazine pages, as if a husband and wife had flipped through them the night before leaving for good.
Behind the tavern and behind the library, there is one trailer home with one Chevy Blazer parked outside. Eighty-year-old Elsie Eiler lives here.
Last weekend, the Owls had an all-day four-wheeling ride in the backfields and drank late into the night in Elsie’s bar, where she works 10 to 12 hours every day but Monday. She cooked upwards of 20 lunches to feed the burly men midway through their ride.
“Elsie down there, you ain’t gonna find no better people than that,” Dennis, one of the bearded motorcyclists, says.
Monowi was population 2 from the late ’90s until 2004, when Elsie’s husband, Rudy, died of cancer. Eighty years earlier, in the ’30s, almost 150 people populated the rural railroad town. There was a time when Monowi was big enough for grocery stores and a post office, a bank and two schools. And then the population dwindled, like it has in every other rural town across the America’s heartland—until there was only Elsie.
“She’s gone, the town’s dead,” Dennis’s motorcycling partner says.