The hills are alive with the sound of music!
As you are aware, I am a huge fan of the Sound of Music. It is a gem of a film. There really aren't that many movies that have Nazis and musical numbers. I have fond memories of sitting on hill tops and singing "The Lonely Goatherd". There is nothing so innocent as the yodeling of a goatherd.
For those of you who aren't acquainted with this movie, it's the true story of an Austrian man named George Von Trapp. He and his children were known as the The Singing Von Trapp Family and they would perform all over the world. When one of his children becomes ill he hires a nun from a local abbey named Maria. Long story short- the nun sings too, he falls in love with the nun, and the whole family makes a dramatic escape from the Nazis. Hooray!
The hills are alive with the sound of music!
As wonderful as this film is, there has always been one question that has haunted me.
What happened to Mrs Von Trapp?
They never really addressed it in the movie. Did she die? Did they divorce? What is the deal?
It seemed important to know. This film is beloved by many. The stage play was wildly successful. And I felt I had a historical obligation to find the answer.
I decided to do some research on the matter.
I first assembled a team to assist me. I hired an attorney named Earl Hefner to keep affairs in line, I brought on project coordinator Lisa Campbell to organize the endeavor, and I got Aidan Heinlan CPA to manage the financial aspects of the research.
Second, I rented some office space in which to house the operation and the 4 interns I brought on from PCC. Each of the students was majoring in either history or European studies.
Third, I applied for a grant to help finance the project. Admittedly this was the part I knew least about and that took the longest. It was very challenging, but after 14 months of letters and meetings I managed to secure a grant for $75, 000 from the history department at Schiller University in Switzerland. The investigation had gotten the green light.
There were a few facts I knew-
-His first wife Agathe Von Trapp was from a wealthy family. Her father invented the torpedo.
-George Von Trapp was in the Austro-Hungarian Navy, like his father.
-They were married January 10, 1911.
I spent 6 weeks in Austria getting familiar with the places where the Von Trapp family lived. As I uncovered information I sent it back to my office back home. I got daily updates from Lisa. It was like a machine. A research machine.
I walked the streets of Salzburg. I saw where they grew up. Where they shopped. I talked to the locals. I learned that all but two of the original seven Von Trapp singers had died. I visited the Von Trapp family graves in Zell am See. George. Maria. By the end of my trip I felt as if I knew the Von Trapp family. It changed me. It was nothing short of amazing.
Important things that I learned-
-Agathe Von Trapp actually christened the first boat that George Von Trapp commanded.
-George and Agathe had seven children together.
-Agathe Von Trapp was a vampire.
-George Von Trapp sank 11 enemy vessels as commander.
Upon my return I learned that my interns had located the youngest of the children, Maria Franziska Von Trapp. Initially she didn't wish to be bothered. I sent her many letters and gifts. I remember the day I first talked to her on the phone. This was a Von trapp! We talked on a few more occasions and finally she granted me an interview. I flew out to New York on a crisp autumn evening and took a bus north to Vermont. We met for brunch the next morning and had a delightful conversation. She looked great for being 94 years old. She was much more lively than I had anticipated. Quite a character. So wise.
I asked how the family coped with her mother being a vampire. I didn't get a straight answer. She seemed bothered by the fact that I brought this up. Our meeting unfortunately ended on an awkward note. I would probably be the same way if my mother was a vampire.
Over the next few months I brainstormed with my team. I sent the interns to Austria for the summer to see if they uncover anything that I had missed. I visited with the stars of the film, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. I read the Maria Von Trapp autobiography. I read Rodgers & Hammersteins original script and work notes. I read the lyrics. Nothing about vampires. I looked for songs that had been omitted or changed. Dead ends.
I didn't feel as though I was any closer. Were the Von Trapp family really running from the Nazis? Or were they running from their vampire mother?
Funding was running out. I had to let the interns go. In a final attempt to solve the mystery I spent the long cold winter in Austria. I slept on the street or in a hostel and I lived off of weiner schnitzels stolen from street vendors. I slept during the day and walked the streets at night looking for signs of any Austrian vampires.
Where are you Mrs. Von Trapp! Where are you!
After 4 long years I finally got my answer.
On September 3, 1922, Agathe Von Trapp died of scarlet fever*.