During World War II, many Europeans left their home countries to escape Nazi Germany, scattering across the globe and settling into quiet, normal lives free from fear. The stories of those families are many and varied, but one you might recognize would be that of the von Trapp Family of Austria.
While still a schoolteacher at the Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg, Maria Augusta Kutschera was hired by Georg von Trapp to tutor his seven children after the untimely death of their mother. While Kutschera was a devoted educator, she also took an interest in nurturing the family’s love of singing and music. It wouldn’t be long before the von Trapp children and Kutschera grew incredibly close, and Georg took notice. He eventually asked the tutor to marry him, an offer she accepted admittedly not because she loved Georg, but rather the children. The couple wed in 1927—perhaps the name Maria von Trapp sounds more familiar?
By the mid-1930s, the von Trapps had become local celebrities in Austria, touring the country to sing at various music festivals as a family troupe. Eventually, the Trapp Family Choir took their talents beyond Austria, performing in Canada, the United States, and Italy.
At the same time the von Trapps were rising to prominence, the Third Reich was strengthening its deathly grip on the continent. The von Trapps were grimly aware of the violence and aggression becoming more apparent toward their Jewish friends and classmates. In fact, the family would even meet Adolf Hitler when they were performing in Munich, Germany, in 1938. Due to their status as celebrities, the von Trapps were able to escape Austria to Italy, then England, and eventually the United States.
They settled in Stowe, Vermont, in 1942. The family house was nestled in the lush, rolling green mountains, reminiscent of the Austrian landscape they had left behind. By 1947, the von Trapps had renovated their house to become a ski lodge, continuing their good-natured kindness by opening their doors to visitors from all over the world. The family would still sing together and recorded albums, continuing their musical legacy in their adopted homeland.
The Trapp Family Singers disbanded in 1957, and the von Trapp children spread out to lead their own lives. Maria stayed at the family lodge, working with various members of her family to maintain the property. Sadly, a fire decimated the original structure in 1980. A new structure built in the same location opened in 1983.
Does any of this sound familiar? It should! In 1949, Maria published The Family of the Trapp Family Singers, which recounted the family’s trials and tribulations. Her book inspired the 1956 film The Trapp Family, which was adapted into a stage show, the now-iconic The Sound of Music. The original run won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and went on to inspire a 1965 film of the same name starring the incomparable Julie Andrews as Maria. The film, too, would prove a commercial and critical success, winning five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Though their real story differs from the versions presented by Broadway and Hollywood, audiences have been captivated and inspired by the von Trapps’ strength and resilience for decades. The von Trapp family—who still own the lodge—have expanded their homestead into a fully-fledged hotel with walking trails, plenty of interesting memorabilia, and a tavern open to the public. Inside, you’ll find an impressive collection of photographs that take you through the family’s history and lots of historical artifacts from their lives.
And, of course, if history isn’t your thing, you are always welcomed to spin around the hillside in a flowing Austrian dress and sing your heart out.