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Hills Are Alive - But The Sound Isn’t Music Von Trapp Family Financial Feud Lands In Vermont’s Highest Court

Sixty years after they escaped Nazi-occupied Austria, members of the family whose charm and courage were immortalized in “The Sound of Music” are fighting among themselves - divided over $3 million that one branch of the family claims it’s owed by the other.

This week, the dispute made its way to Vermont’s highest court.

At issue is the value of stock held by about 20 dissenting shareholders.

The von Trapps’ finances have been incorporated since 1962, when the Trapp Family Lodge Inc. was formed to bring the family holdings together, according to court documents. The holdings include the Trapp Family Lodge hotel, 2,200 acres of land in Stowe, and some of the royalties to “The Sound of Music.”

Maria von Trapp, played by Julie Andrews in the movie, died in 1987. Maria’s youngest son, Johannes von Trapp, who lives in a house on the property, told the Burlington Free Press that tensions surfaced after that, leading to a 1993 “blow-up” that resulted in family members ousting him as president of the corporation running Trapp Family Lodge.

Von Trapp won back control the next year and reorganized the company, he told the Free Press. Minority shareholders - including his sister and the children of two brothers - objected and cashed in their shares.

The business paid the dissenting family members about $2.5 million. They challenged the payment in Lamoille County Superior Court, saying they were due about twice as much. A three-judge panel agreed in May, ordering Trapp Family Lodge Inc. to pay a higher value - with interest, about $3 million.

Johannes von Trapp has appealed to the state Supreme Court. Lawyers for both sides argued their cases before the court this week. Neither von Trapp nor a lawyer for the dissenting family members returned calls Friday.

Hans von Wees, the general manager of the Trapp Family Lodge, insisted that the battle going on in Montpelier wouldn’t affect the lodge, which on Friday was wreathed in fog on an unseasonably warm day, and busy with visitors from out of state.

“This has been going on for a few years. I don’t think there’s anything out of the ordinary for us to be worried about,” von Wees said.

The von Trapp family fled Austria in 1938, on the eve of World War II, eventually settling in the hills above Stowe and building an Austrian-style lodge. The lodge burned down in 1980 and was rebuilt as a 93-room hotel with 100 additional time share units. The development also includes about 45 miles of mountaintop trails for walking and cross-country skiing.

There’s no question the family immortalized in the 1965 film version of “The Sound of Music” is what attracts many of the lodge’s 150,000 visitors a year. But Tom Kaiden, the executive director of the Stowe Area Association, said he wasn’t worried that news of the family feud would tarnish the image of one of Stowe’s principal attractions.

“The mystique of the family is very important, both to the Trapp family lodge and to Stowe,” Kaiden said. “But my sense is that the lawsuit is essentially a private matter. … To those of us in town, it’s not news, nor does it really affect us.”

A revival of “The Sound of Music” is opening March 12 at the Martin Beck Theater in New York City.


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