Revisiting the Real von Trapps as The Sound of Music Turns 50

Here is an extended version of the story that appears in the book. It tells the tale of the youngest child, Johannes Trapp von Trapp, who traveled to Vermont to visit Daniel Levy S. — The real-life Trapp von Trapp family. The book, titled “LIFE’s New Book,” is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of the film “The Sound of Music,” which premiered on March 2, 1965.

Scattered antlers and a Dall Ram, a mounted wild boar, zebra and grizzly rugs, along with a vast assortment of hunting trophies from Papua New Guinea where he served as a missionary in the late 1950s, family memorabilia, and items from the life he built surround him at home. The burden of history and the Trapp Family Lodge can be escaped by Johannes and Lynne, his wife of 45 years, in a timber framed home with an equally impressive fieldstone hearth and a soaring cathedral ceiling. A sanctuary for the caretaker of his family’s tradition is the location on a ridge of the Green Mountains in Stowe, where one must drive down a narrow path cut through dense Vermont woods to reach Johannes von Trapp’s residence.

“He expresses how much he enjoys this location, as he gazes out of the window at the snow-covered terrain, a swimming pond, and an expansive forest for hiking. It enables him to completely detach from the hotel. The shelves are equally filled with books that represent the world he has grown up in, including titles like Harvesting Timber Crops, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and biographies of Jack London and Winston Churchill. His desk is weighed down by books and papers, and Johannes’ office is located to the side, which provides insight into a life lived to the fullest. The house possesses the pristine atmosphere one would anticipate from a hotelier.”

The man is tall, soft-spoken, with pale blue eyes and a fondness for warm vests. He has dedicated more than half of his life to overseeing his parents’ place, while balancing his vision and planning, planning, planning. He is a gracious host, always smiling and joking with his workers, while also being a visionary. The legacy of the music of sound is something he holds dear. However, he doesn’t just think about the current success of the lodge. He is an ecologist and a businessman, and he has created a tailored retreat that is designed for guests and also meets the needs of the environment. He knows that his impact will be felt for decades to come, even after he is gone.

The relationship between Johannes and his parents, as well as his siblings, was often a mix of positive and negative. He deeply loves his mother, acknowledging her inner strength, even though they would quietly disappear into concentration camps in Poland or Germany. There is no question about how good Maria was for him and their children. He remembers them as an ideal couple and loving parents. Johannes talks about why they had to leave Austria and how his father, Georg, was a man of principles and faith. He recounts stories of his father, who served in the Austrian Navy, telling sweet stories at the dinner table while arranging cutlery with a fork on the line drawn on the tablecloth. He clearly misses his parents and speaks lovingly of them. Johannes explains the different versions of their story, as portrayed in the movie with Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews, and what actually happened. Franz Wasner, Father Franz, landed in America and soon after, Johannes, the youngest of the von Trapp children, was born. The movie has created an uncomfortable relationship between the reality of what happened and the depiction in the film, which Johannes has grappled with for a long time.

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We formed a harmonious singing ensemble. Our financial stability relied on our unity. Maria understood the importance of staying together in order to achieve success. Sister Hedwig once mentioned that without their mother’s influence, they would have all been working as housemaids and chefs. He describes Maria as “one of the most resolute individuals I have ever known,” and it was her strong determination that motivated the entire family.

During the winter season, when the family was not occupied with singing, they decided to rent out rooms to skiers. Slowly, the location transformed into a lodge, especially when friends of friends started coming and contributed to the expenses of their visits. The dinner table was always bustling with activity, rarely accommodating less than twelve individuals. Along with seven sisters, two brothers, and a group of visiting friends, the lodge became a mix of different people and experiences. “Maybe we could use a few more men around here,” my father suggested, scanning the surroundings, after an old Vermonter commented, “Or one more of those girls.” One day, while my sisters were busy demolishing old farm structures using axes and hammers, my father engaged in a conversation with the old Vermonter. However, since my brothers Werner and Rupert were serving in the War, it was up to my sisters to undertake much of the physical labor, as the farmhouse needed to be expanded to accommodate our large family. Despite the workload, they continued to sing and eventually established a music camp in 1944. The von Trapps arrived in Stowe, Vermont in 1942, settling on Luce Hill, a 660-acre working farm.

The young officer in the National Guard didn’t sit well with the gripping turmoil on campus at Berkeley in the 1960s, but afterwards, he studied forestry resources at Yale’s School of Forestry. He then headed back to the United States, attending Dartmouth. After that, he spent nearly three years as a missionary on Fergusson Island off the coast of New Guinea. He graduated high school through correspondence courses, passing long hours on the bus reading anything he could find. Johannes loved touring and his French mother and Latin sister Maria taught him math. Father Wasner handled his Latin. From an early age, we had a private chapel and a living priest who said mass with us every morning. This made for an atypical childhood, and the peripatetic life of this traveling singing troupe shaped him.

He reluctantly accepted what she said at the end. As long as we are not making any money, we won’t be able to make anyone happy and we will lose this place, my mother said. Johannes complained that we are always talking about money and we are here to make people happy. He recalls a discussion with his mother where she complained about Johannes always talking about money. Because they didn’t understand each other, it was almost impossible to have a business conversation. You talked about sex more than money, and you didn’t talk about sex at all in this Victorian manner that our older brothers and sisters were raised in. Johannes realized that the finances were complicated due to the collision of the Old World views and tried to straighten things out by setting a firmer financial base. He stopped touring more than a decade earlier because he realized there were lots of nephews and nieces in the family. He returned to the homestead in 1969. It bothered me that I got in the way of friendships and I wanted things to be more normal. I called myself John Trapp. It bothered me that I got in the way of friendships and I wanted things to be more normal. As a member of a performing family, Johannes was used to the unnerving and sharpening focus of unsought fame. The Trapp von family was famous in the world back then.

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The representation of “The Sound of Music” has always been a source of expression for my family’s values and tastes, while also recognizing and acknowledging the passage of time. I have always made an effort to prevent this place from becoming a twisted reality that conforms to the film, but rather to embrace and love the reality of my family’s story. When asked about the show, I nod with a hint of resignation, knowing that there are determined fans who are determined to show their love for it. There is a striking balance between myth, history, and the expanded story of my parents’ experiences, which my father is proud to have preserved and expanded upon. In 1983, he opened the lodge that shares our family’s history, and in 1994, he bought out the other family that had improved and burned down the original structure in 1980.

Johannes proudly points out that Eggs Farm Trapp, the restaurant staff who offer dishes harvested from the land, as well as the employees who arrange decorations, are the ones responsible for breakfast. As Johannes walks through the lodge, he chats and nods with the employees. Even foreign language posters and American movie pictures, along with stills from German films, keep the halls alive. They also screen films such as “The Lorax” and “The Sound of Music.” In addition, there are sing-a-longs with a harpist who tells a gathered group of guests that they will sing numbers such as “Edelweiss” and “Maria.” There are also assorted activities and tours of the maple sugarhouse for the guests who arrive for the busy weekend at the lodge, which is nestled between the Worcester and Green Mountains. The lodge is filled with traditional Austrian carved motifs, a bell tower, and dormers, and the wooden lodge is chockablock with dark stained flags from Austria and Vermont. Along with his interest in the film, Johannes combines his role as an environmentalist and lodge keeper. He has succeeded in buying an additional 2,000 acres of land and laying out biking and hiking trails. This is what Johannes has accomplished.

In the shadow of the lodge, where Johannes’ brothers and sisters rest, lays a small family tree-line plot. Rupert fought fascism and built a stone chapel on the hill, which serves as a shrine to Mary, Our Lady of Peace. In addition, there is a large tent for wedding celebrations, fenced meadows with Scottish Highland cattle, and gardens with patches of berries and vegetables. There are also other musical groups and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, which picnickers can enjoy listening to in the warmer weather, outside the field shows.

Plans are even in place for opening a restaurant adjacent to the towering building containing a 6,000-gallon stainless steel German-made brewery. This new facility, which will start producing at least 50,000 barrels a year in the spring, brews German and Austrian Bier Trösten Helles Golden. Currently, the microbrewery produces 2,000 barrels a year, and Johannes, the owner, has transformed it into a successful business. As he steps down the hill, surrounded by scattered fruit trees and groves of pine, maple, beech, and birch, the snow whips around him. Johannes is in the midst of a transition, as he is now 76 years old and his son, Sam, is taking over as the senior executive and administrator of the lodge. Walter, Johannes’ son-in-law, handles special events and Kristina, his daughter, runs history tours. At this stage, Johannes is focused on preserving the land and studying forest ecology, as there are currently 1,600 acres of conservation easements in place. It is fitting for a man who has dedicated his life to studying the forest and its ecology.

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Once again, I can breathe here because I am so glad to be back. Johannes Oh “says, when he picked her up at the airport, she would stretch out her arms wide.” The weight of custom and tradition is strong in Austria, but the culture also brings me joy. It reminds him of his mother, whom he loved dearly, while she visited her homeland. “I felt at home with my family here in America,” he recalls, “but the Trapp von Trapps have definitely been rooted in Salzburg, not Vermont.” I am trying to combine the aesthetics and taste of Austria with the traditions of Vermont, which is what I am attempting to encapsulate. At the bottom of the hill, there is a sign inviting guests to experience a little bit of Austria and a lot of Vermont, and he admits that he feels tired of people saying that it is just like Austria. Stowe, with its church steeple and picturesque villages, farms, cows, meadows, and forested hills, helps me feel reminiscent of Austria while being wholly New England. It is the film “The Sound of Music” that has made the Trapp von Trapp family’s celluloid mythic life versus their real life peaceful. As Johannes looks back on his family and his life, he is comfortable juggling the traditions of the past with the present.

The Sound of Music, too, provided inspiration to numerous individuals. This is precisely what my mother desired. It is gratifying to be aware that you have played a role in bringing joy to people for many years. When they visit, they express to Johannes how much they enjoyed the place in their youth and still eagerly anticipate returning. Many of the occupants in the rooms are individuals who have inherited their parents’ timeshares, as a new generation embraces the spotlight. With Werner’s grandchildren carrying on the singing legacy as The von Trapps, a new von Trapp tradition is emerging, reminiscent of the old ones, as he formulates his plans.

If it hadn’t been for my father, Maria von Trapp, and Georg, we wouldn’t have known about them. I was deeply moved by that. I climbed back over the fence, turned around, and saluted. Johannes, with tears in his eyes, says that he stood in front of my father’s grave for a few minutes. He was wearing a naval officer’s uniform, a formal white dress. I noticed that Johannes had splinters in his hand. He said that he will sue me because, once again, he did not climb over the fence. Oh, the exasperation! Sitting on the balcony in the early evening of the 1970s, he recalls.

The LIFE book titled The Sound of Music: 50 Years Later, the Hills Are Still Alive will be available for purchase on February 6, 2015.

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