Mae Carbaugh lived the quiet life of a hermit. She rarely left her home along Route 550 close to the Western Maryland Railway tracks near Thurmont. Yet, in the months before she died in 1974, her life was national news.
Carbaugh wasn’t a native of Frederick County. She was born on a farm in Delaware in 1896. Deciding that the farming life wasn’t for her, Carbaugh left home at age 16. She wound up working as a hotel restaurant waitress in Emmitsburg until the hotel closed.
She married Charles Carbaugh and the couple had a daughter. Charles was an alcoholic and didn’t work much so when he died in 1953, he left his wife with nothing. Mae found work as a housekeeper for an elderly bachelor, though.
“When the old bachelor died, she continued, she had no place to live. So she bought a bus for $100 15 years ago, parked it on public land and has lived there ever since,” the Baltimore Sun wrote about her in 1970.
“I’ve been wanting a house all these years. But the houses in Thurmont rent for about $50 a month and I don’t have that kind of money,” she told the Frederick Post.
While the old bus was Carbaugh’s home, many people considered it an eyesore. Some of them tried to get her evicted, but Frederick Wilhide, the property owner, told them that as long as Carbaugh wasn’t causing any problems, she could stay.
Although Carbaugh didn’t cause problems, she was the focus of some problems. Vandals had caused a lot of damage to the bus over time. The windows were covered with wood or sheet metal because rocks had broken the windows.
“Although most townspeople don’t associate with the old woman, neighborhood kids do pay visits. They start small fires near her camp site, toss rocks at her gray and blue bus and sneak up in the dead of night and hoot and howl like enraged witches.
“’On Halloween night it’s really bad,’ she says, her voice quivering, ‘All these kids come up and throw rocks at me and my cats. I don’t know why they want to hurt us,’” the Hagerstown Mail reported.
To make her bus livable, Carbaugh added a small wood stove inside with a stove pipe that could be seen protruding from the roof of the bus.
“It’s a hard time firing the stove for 24 hours to keep from freezing,” Carbaugh said.
There was also a bed and piles upon piles of used clothing that sometimes grew moldy.
However, the bus had no indoor plumbing. “She kept a pot inside and when it got full, she buried its contents in the woods, using a shovel she kept there for that purpose,” the Baltimore Sun reported.
The Sun reporter who met with the 74-year-old Carbaugh described her as having a wrinkled face “almost obscured by a knit cap pulled down on a swarthy forehead.” When the reporter from the Mail interviewed her, he noted that she wore a torn red dress and one black shoe and one brown one.
She got by picking up soda bottles off the side of the road and taking them into a nearby gas station for the deposit. People passing by in cars would also stop and give her food and clothing.
Her daughter, Mary, had lived away from her parents from the age of five and never visited her mother in Thurmont.
She said of her mother in the Frederick Post, “Some people don’t like to be around lots of people. Everybody has their own individual mind. I couldn’t live that way. I like to be around people. I don’t like to be alone. There are lots of possibilities why she was the way she was. She wasn’t crazy. She was peculiar. She lost both her parents when she was 16, you know. We don’t know what that may have done to her.”
Following the publication of the Baltimore Sun story in 1970, a Baltimore businessman gave Carbaugh a green trailer.
“The businessman suggested she move into a modern trailer camp but Mrs. Carbaugh would have none of it. She refused to move from the spot near the stream where she gets her drinking water in a bucket. And she refused to take the hint that she change her ways,” the Hagerstown Mail reported.
Around Thurmont, Carbaugh was known as “The Cat Lady” because she kept two or three cats as pets.
When Carbaugh died on October 23, 1974, the Frederick Post called her trailer a landmark. After all, it had been in the same location for 20 years.
It was a landmark that quickly disappeared, though. “The piles of wood and debris were gone, the worn trailer was empty, locked and lonely, the green wooden doghouse overturned and deserted. On the leaf-covered ground, some spilled navy beans, tired scraps of foil and bits of cloth — materials for next spring’s birds nests — were all that told of a once strange and independent existence,” the newspaper reported shortly after her death.
The Baltimore Sun said of her, “To some she was the last of a hardy breed . . .an eccentric who lived her own life as she saw fit, who wanted to be alone and to be left alone.”
Her funeral services were held at the Creager Funeral Home and Carbaugh was interred at Blue Ridge Cemetery on October 26, 1974.