Eighty-seven-year-old Elsie Eiler has been the only resident in Monowi, Nebraska, since her husband Rudy died in 2004. So it came as a big shock to her that the decennial US census had doubled the number of residents in its last report.
Much to Eiler's surprise, America's smallest town – with just one resident who is mayor, town board, clerk, treasurer, librarian and bartender – now had two people living in it, according to the recently released 2020 census report.
“Well, then someone’s been hiding from me, and there’s nowhere to live but my house,” Ms Eiler told the Lincoln Journal Star. “But if you find out who he is, let me know?”
According to a census spokeswoman, the extra person was created by an algorithm for data protection reasons.
“What you’re seeing there is the noise we add to the data so you can’t figure out who is living there,” the spokeswoman told the Star. “It protects the privacy of the respondent and the confidentiality of the data they provide.”
The phantom resident was shifted from another census block, but some have debated the accuracy of the findings. At a micro-level, in a town with a total area of 0.21 square miles this may seem odd, but zoom out a little it’s accurate, explained the census department.
“We take the same number of people, but we move them around,” the spokeswoman explained. “When you look at it all the way out, it’s correct.”
Ms Eiler has a son and daughter, both moved away from town when they graduated from school. There was also a bachelor living in town for a while too, but when his house burned down he moved elsewhere.
Ms Eiler pays the town's taxes each year, to keep its water mains turned on and its lampposts lit. She also applies to herself for a liquor licence. "When I apply to the state for my liquor and tobacco licenses each year, they send them to the secretary of the village, which is me,” she told the BBC. “So, I get them as the secretary, sign them as the clerk and give them to myself as the bar owner.”
In the 1930s Monowi was home to 150 people, when the Elkhorn Railroad was in operation. Eiler's closest town is 6.92 miles away.
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