I love the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical The Sound of Music. In fact, it is one of my favorites. I grew up watching it every year on network TV (before VCRs and DVDs and DVRs). Julie Andrews owns the role of Maria the nun, turned governess, turned wife of a naval captain. I sing the songs, even when I’m by myself and without any accompaniment. It’s just so familiar to me. Sometimes, I have even forgotten it is based on a true story. But this past October 2017, my husband, Bobby, and I were able to visit the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget that the musical I cherish is the story of a real family who escaped Austria and Hitler’s reign of terror.
I found out about the Trapp Family Lodge last year (2016). Linda Hall, a friend and co-worker of Bobby’s, had visited there with her husband. They had a great time. Bobby and I tried to arrange a trip there last fall during our annual visit to Massachusetts, but things did not work out. This year, we planned better so we were sure not to miss it.
Stowe, Vermont is around 3 1/2 to 4 hours from Saugus, Massachusetts, without traffic. We knew that our trip would have to be an overnight visit. I had toyed with the idea of splurging for a room at the actual lodge, but our pockets aren’t that deep! Thankfully, the Trapp family opens their lodge up to day visitors. You can pay a fee to walk around the grounds, hike their trails and in the winter, even cross country ski. In addition, the lodge offers a Trapp family history tour. The cost of this tour is $15, but it includes the day pass. After you spend around 90 minutes learning about the von Trapp family, you can spend the rest of your day enjoying the view and walking around the acres of land.
Since we were staying at a hotel in Stowe, we didn’t rush to get to the Trapp Family Lodge. We were about 1/2 hour early for the tour. This allowed us a chance to get comfortable seats in the yurt and listen to some music. The tour guide told us that the music was the actual von Trapp Family singers. While they sounded different from the movie, as they sang classical choral music, it was beautiful.
What I really liked about the tour is the way the guide explained how God had worked out the lives of Captain (Baron) Georg von Trapp and Maria to end up together. We learned the “backstory” of both Georg and Maria. It was fascinating to hear how they both ended up in Salzburg, Austria and how Maria ended up being a tutor (not governess) for the von Trapp family. Our tour guide explained that while much of the story from the musical was very accurate to the historical account, there were some differences. One was that Maria had been contracted to be a tutor for one year for one of the von Trapp children, Maria, who had been ill with scarlet fever. The producers of the musical, also obviously changed the names of the children. One reason is because there would have been two Maria’s in the musical, if they hadn’t changed it. Also, the tour guide said that perhaps they didn’t think the names of the children sounded “Austrian” enough. (The seven children’s actual names were: Rupert, Werner, Johanna, Agathe, Maria, Martina and Hedwig.)
Another difference between the real family and the musical was there was no Baroness Schrader, who was vying with Maria for the Captain’s affection. And the Captain himself was not some stand-offish or aloof father. Instead, he was quite involved with his children. This is something the tour guide said the family wished to be known to those who take the tour. He even allowed and enjoyed singing in the home, unlike the movie’s father. I don’t know why, but I was glad to know this.
Also, there was no Uncle Max. The person who “discovered” the von Trapp Family Singers was Monsignor Franz Wasner. He encouraged the family to start the von Trapp Family Chorus. They changed the name later to the von Trapp Family Singers. The family became pretty well known in their area of Austria, which would become very important when the fled their homeland.
Perhaps the most interesting difference was that Georg and Maria were married in 1927 and had a couple of daughters before they escaped from Austria. In the movie, it was much more condensed than that. And the two little girls weren’t even mentioned!
After we spent time learning about some of the history and how Maria ended up with the von Trapp’s, we headed to the family cemetery. It is very near the lodge itself. Our guide told us stories about each of the family members who were buried there. She told a funny story about one of daughters. Apparently, this daughter was notoriously late for everything. When she died, she had not been living on the estate, so they had to have her body transported to Stowe. Something went wrong and she was actually sent to a different Stowe in another state instead of Stowe, Vermont. The family jokes that she was even late for her own funeral!
Part of the tour included the viewing of a documentary that Maria had done with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It showed her back in Austria and had clips of interviews with her. It was during one of the interview segments that she explained how she and the Captain had gotten engaged. The children all loved Maria, but her contract was ending in a couple of weeks. She had expected to go back to the Abbey and make her final vows to be a nun. Turned out the Captain was more than a little interested in her, but had never really said anything. When it finally came down to it and he asked her about what she thought of them getting together, she took off from the house and ran to the Abbey to consult with the nuns. After the nuns prayed about it, they told her that the Holy Spirit directed them to instruct her to marry the Captain. She trudged back to the house, hoping to avoid him (it was late at night by this time), but as soon as she walked in, he said, “Well?” She broke down in tears and cried, “They said I should marry you!” And as she put it in the documentary, “That was our engagement.”
At the end of our tour, we had the opportunity to meet one of the actual von Trapp family members. Sam von Trapp, Georg and Maria’s grandson from their youngest son, Johannes, came out to talk and answer some of our questions. He, along with his dad and sister run the Trapp Family Lodge.
After listening to him, I believe that his dad, Johannes, is quite the visionary. It was his idea to purchase the land near the family’s first piece of property in Stowe. They have grown their family business from a lodge to a resort that includes cottages as well. Plus down the mountain a little bit is their newest venture, the von Trapp Brewery. (Bobby and I enjoyed our lunch there, which I’m sure we’ll be writing about sometime in the future.)
After the tour and lunch, Bobby and I walked to the Stone Chapel, which was built by Werner after World War II to honor the soldiers who fought in the war. He and his brother, Rupert, were part of the Ski Troops. Werner had made a vow to God that if he and Rupert made it home from the war safely, he would do something to show his thanks. He ended up building a small chapel near the top of the mountain. He carried the rocks up the mountain and wouldn’t accept help from anyone. Bobby and I walked that path, believe me, that would have been no easy feat to get those rocks/stones to the top!
When we left the Trapp Family Lodge and headed back down the mountain, I felt the von Trapp’s were even more of fascinating than the family I watched on TV as a kid. As Maria said in the documentary, “It is a good story. It just also happens to be true.”