Sam von Trapp, 38, vice president of the Trapp Family Lodge located in Stowe, Vermont, poses for a photo last month at The Breakers in Palm Beach. He is Maria and Baron von Trapp's grandson. (Gary Coronado/The Palm Beach Post)
The name probably doesn’t ring a bell. But the name usually triggers a sound – The Sound of Music, that is.
“I get that a lot,” says Sam von Trapp, who is, indeed, one of those von Trapps, and the grandson of Captain Georg and Maria von Trapp, the real-life inspirations for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic tale of nuns, nannies, Nazis and one courageous escape from SS-occupied Austria.
“It surprises me when it (is recognized) in Chile and Brazil, but it happens less often, interestingly enough, in Austria. We’re not as well-known there,” says von Trapp, who with his father, sister and cousin runs Stowe, Vt. ‘s Trapp Family Lodge, a 2,400-acre resort founded by his famous grandparents.
The former globe-trotting ski instructor, who officially joined the family business three and a half years ago, dropped in at a different resort recently – The Breakers – for the gala of the Maltz Jupiter Theater, then playing a production of The Sound of Music.
While he admits that it took some time to make peace with the fiercely beloved work that made his family’s name – if not their completely accurate story – known world-wide, he’s now come to embrace it, as well as his part in the continuing family legacy.
The popularity of the musical, and particularly the 1960 film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer as von Trapp’s future grandparents, “is one of those perfect storm situations,” von Trapp says.
“It combines the complex story of a family saying ‘no’ to Hitler. It also involves a romance, an unbelievable cast and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music. Without that, the story never would have reached that type of longitude. It’s the last musical they wrote together. The last song they wrote was Edelweiss, and the last word of it is ‘Forever.’ I get weepy thinking about it.”
But there was a time, he admits, when that tune, and all the others, elicited an impulse to flee, rather than fond remembrances.
“My relationship with it has been redefined. For a long time I had a tendency to hold it at arm’s length in an attempt to maintain my own life,” von Trapp says. “…But over time, my mind has been changed through my interaction with the fans of the musical and what a positive influence it’s had for them.”
Had his own border incident
Now, he’s a fan, having seen the musical live about 10 times, and his family has become close to the cast of the movie.
“We call ourselves the von Trapps and the non-Trapps,” he says, adding that he was unable to attend the recent reunion on the Oprah show, with some cousins filling in.
While von Trapp has always been close to his family, he didn’t immediately jump into the family business. When he graduated from Dartmouth University, his father Johannes encouraged Sam, a 2001 selection for People magazine’s top 50 Bachelors, to travel before settling in to help run things in Stowe. So he did, working as a ski instructor in Aspen and in Portillo, Chile, where he met wife Elisa.
“My father said to take ten years, but after seven, he started calling me, asking ‘When are you coming home?’” he says.
The decision was made after a treacherous trip across the border from Chile to Brazil, which, while not as perilous as his family’s trek out of Austria, was nonetheless dramatic. Border guards hassled him about his credentials and took his vehicle, leaving him to walk on foot “with all my stuff, to the resort. At that point, I thought ‘I’ve had my adventures. I’m ready for a little stability.’ “
And so von Trapp headed back to the home slopes to “help rekindle the excitement of our business” as well as to prove that he’d inherited the work ethic of his grandparents, who had their kids all working their Vermont farm that was eventually turned into the lodge.
Never met the Captain
Visitors to the lodge learn not only about its close relationship to nature – “It’s really a profound experience to be able to step out into the woods” – but of the real-life family’s history, as part of a regular tour led by at least one von Trapp. And they learn, von Trapp says, that the musical “took some small licenses, changing the children’s names, for instance. And my aunts tended to point out that my grandfather was not nearly as stern and unfriendly as he is in the musical. They felt he was unjustly portrayed for dramatic purposes. But he was experiencing some profound changes. He’d lost his wife and his Navy.”
Von Trapp never met the Captain, who died in 1947, but was close to his grandmother, who died in 1987. Although he doesn’t sing like his father’s siblings (“I tell people that I sing with others, not for them”), he carries on the tradition of having the whole family sing Silent Night in German with the guests on Christmas Eve, “and get all choked up,” he says.
Ultimately, his goal is to keep the Trapp Family Lodge going, welcoming new guests, as well as those who love his family’s story so much that they feel like old friends.
“We’re a real family, and they can meet us if they come to visit,” he says. “It’s a great story – that just happens to be true. It’s such a positive, inspirational story! Who knows how much good has been done because people were inspired by it, or how much evil not done.”