By Gerry Moran
Over a quarter of a century ago, on a rain swept Halloween night, my wife and two American friends, pulled in to the Von Trapp Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. During our brief stay I met two very interesting women – one, a member of the famous Von Trapp family who founded the hotel, the other, with no claim to fame whatsoever, a local taxi-driver.
Around 7 pm. while my wife and the Americans went for a swim I booked a taxi to show me the ‘Halloween sights’ of Stowe. Five minutes later a cab pulled up, the window lowered and a lady in a witch’s hat stuck her head out: “You the Halloween guy?” she smiled, “thought I’d wear something appropriate.” Her name was Peggy Blaufeld, from the German meaning blue field, formerly Peggy Reid, and once married to an Irish man of the same name. Peggy took me to the pumpkin patch, a field actually, where row upon row of amber pumpkins glowed eerily in the New England dark.
Later we cruised the streets of Stowe, in the ‘spritzing rain’ as Peggy called it, swinging from one pavement to the other while I clicked my camera at the colourful procession of kids, trick & treating, in their outlandishly grotesque costumes. Monsters, ghosts, ghouls and witches, some hand-in-hand with their parents, traipsed happily along with little plastic buckets for their night’s takings.
The houses and shops of Stowe were equally grotesque and gothic. A black, six-foot coffin with a luminous white skeleton inside stood grimly to attention outside someone’s front door. A life-size Frankenstein, with axe in hand, sat on a porch, beside him a table with a gruesome display of severed heads while one shop-front was completely stencilled with black, spindly spiders and bats. One hour later, Peggy Blaufeld and myself pulled up outside the Von Trapp Lodge having chatted about everything from the meaning of life to living with an Irish man, her ex-husband.
The following morning in the hotel’s gift shop I spent some time scanning the numerous book and articles pertaining to the Von Trapp family and the musical, The Sound of Music, which made them famous.
I learned that, in 1955, Maria Von Trapp, the step-mother of the seven Von Trapp children, whose husband Georg had died in 1947, leaving her strapped for cash, sold the film rights of her very successful book ‘The Trapp Family Singers’ to a German film company for $9,000, inadvertently signing her rights away. Sold on to Broadway, the musical The Sound of Music, starring Mary Martin, first opened in 1959, in New York, on November 16. The movie giants 20th Century Fox bought the film rights to the musical for $1.25 million and The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews, premiered in 1965 and won five Academy Awards.
As I purchased a copy of Maria Von Trapp’s biography, I inquired if any of the Von Trapp family lived in the hotel and discovered that Rosemarie von Trapp was on the premises and giving a calligraphy class nearby. I made my way to her studio; knocking gently on the door, I introduced myself, explaining that I was on holiday from Ireland with my wife. Rosemarie Von Trapp, ‘the eight’ as she referred to herself, was the first of three children born to Maria and Georg Von Trapp and half sister to the famous seven who featured in The Sound of Music. She didn’t feature in the movie but had a walk-on part along with her mother Maria.
Rosemarie Von Trapp was gentle, gracious and most obliging. The calligraphy, she informed me, she had learned from a French nun and she now gave classes regularly. I asked her about her nun-like dress and she explained that she belonged to a community called The Church of The Crucified One and that they prayed regularly for peace in the world, not least in Ireland.
I can’t quite remember how we touched upon the topic of Heaven, but Heaven, she smiled, with her gentle brown eyes, would be One Great Musical.
Little did I know it then but the youngest of my family, Lizzy, all of five years of age, would soon play the part of the youngest of the seven Von Trapps (called Gretl in the movie) in a local production of The Sound of Music.
One of those strange Halloween things, I guess.