Long before the Broadway show and then the movie, the von Trapps were famous in their own right as the Trapp Family Singers. They toured the world, enthralling audiences with their command of sacred songs, English madrigals and Austrian, English and American folk songs. They began singing publicly in Austria and Europe as the Trapp Family Choir just a few years before World War II broke out.
The family stopped performing in 1956 after 20 years of traveling by bus, airplane and car to big cities and small towns in the United States, South America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. They all were exhausted and the children were eager to pursue private lives. They might have faded into oblivion had it not been for that movie starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
Though some critics dismissed the movie as silly, sentimental and unrealistic, "The Sound of Music" was a smash, breaking box-office records and besting "Gone With the Wind" as the highest-grossing film in Hollywood history. It won five Oscars, including Best Picture, and is now a perennial television favorite. It cost $8 million to make and to date has grossed more than $200 million. Family members still receive "modest amounts" in royalties from both the play and movie, says Johannes, the youngest of the children, declining to elaborate.
The movie's 30th anniversary has sparked renewed interest in the film and the von Trapps. A special anniversary showing of the movie, for which Julie Andrews served as host, aired on television last month. RCA Records has released various anniversary editions of the soundtrack, a multimillion seller in the 1960s, including versions with the original sequence of songs.
"There's no question 'The Sound of Music' has created an identity for the family that stays with people," says Thomas F. Kaiden, executive director of the Stowe Area Association, a nonprofit business and marketing group for the Stowe community. "The movie is broadcast [regularly] and that keeps the story fresh in our minds. It's an American classic. Kids grow up with that story."
William T. Anderson, a Michigan author who has written about the von Trapps for the Saturday Evening Post and American History Illustrated, has written a book about the family that was just published in Japan. "The World of the Trapp Family" contains updates on family members and current photographs. Mr. Anderson is working with an American publisher to release the book here.
Reasons for the enduring popularity of the movie and the family are probably as numerous as von Trapp children.
"The Trapp family has become part of our folklore," says Michael Marsden, a pop culture specialist at Northern Michigan University. "Their story is really a reliving of the American experience on foreign soil, and that appeals to Americans. They have endeared themselves to us with their story of survival and family."
Their decision to give up wealth and prestige for their religious beliefs, Mr. Marsden says, resonates with Americans. And they survived and prospered as a family, overcoming great obstacles before firmly establishing themselves in America.
Johannes, president of the Trapp Family Lodge, agrees with Mr. Marsden, noting the family's story is the quintessential immigrant experience.
"A lot of people come to America and start over," Johannes says. "We've been fortunate so I think that survival is part of the appeal. But I also think the story of a family with very strong convictions appeals to people, too. Ours is a large, close-knit family."
Eleonore believes the von Trapp saga touches people today because it remains a positive story in a world where such stories are a minimum.
"I think people have a need for hope," she says. "The family's story showed that trust in God is honored. There were family values based on God's promise. The family's legacy was trust in God."
The family's appeal is never more evident than at the hotel, a European-style hunting lodge with balconies and steeply pitched gables. It sits on 2,000 acres of rolling meadows and forests of birch and pines on a hillside high above Stowe. The lodge -- with its imposing Austrian bell tower -- is successor to the family's original Vermont home and much smaller hotel, which were destroyed by fire in 1980.
Sing-alongs with Rosmarie often draw large crowds to sitting rooms decorated with Austrian-style furnishings and a few family pictures. Tour buses filled with senior citizens -- those who can remember the Trapp Family Singers -- are common. And the curious -- cross-country skiers and Stowe tourists alike -- often wander into the lodge.
"A lot of people come here because of the family," says Johannes, 56. "We don't try to sell it on that basis. If we did, we would have to have someone from the family at the door greeting guests."