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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The first Baroness Von Trapp

I will confess: The Sound of Music is high on my list of favourite films. When we drove around New England in 1999 and New Hampshire was basically closed, it was a real treat to stay at the Von Trapp Lodge. We were even shown our room by Maria Von Trapp (one of the original family singers, rather than the nun). She had been greeting guests and took pity on us.
Over the years, I had vaguely wondered about the Captian's first wife. Who was she? How did she die?
Then when I was reading The Industrial Revolutionaries, I found my answer.
Agathe Von Trapp was the daughter of John Whitehead who was the son of Robert Whitehead, one of the main inventors of the torpedo. Robert Whitehead (born 1823 Bolton Lancastershire) was English but worked mainly abroad as a marine engineer. He went into engineering because of his uncle William Swift.
Agathe Whitehead met Georg Ritter Von Trapp in 1908 when he attended a launch of one of the early U boats. They fell in love and married. Then in 1922, at the age of 32, Agathe died of diptheria, leaving five young children to be cared for. Eventually he employed Maria Augusta Kutschera, a nun as a governess who taught the children to sing. After they lost the family fortune in the bank crashes of 1932, they sang their way out of trouble.
The rest they say is history.
Anyway, I thought it interesting...
UPDATE: I had a look at the Family chronology and see that there were seven children. I am not sure where Gavin Weightman got five from.
From the Von Trapp Family Chronology:
1927 Georg and Maria wed on November 26th; Maria becomes step-mother of Rupert, Werner, Johanna, Agathe, Maria, Martina and Hedwig


Donna Alward said...

I will admit to loving the movie and not knowing the actual if I read your post right, she left 5 children and not 7? And that Maria happened to the family well before WWII?

I am afraid that if I know the history, maybe the movie won't be the same...kind of like when my mum read a biography of Bing Crosby and then couldn't watch White Christmas any more....

Michelle Styles said...

You can see the time line of the Von Trapps here:

And yes, Maria and Georg married in 1927. But they did have to escape from the Nazis, etc etc. Her autobiography is very good and I remember he proposed to her when she was up a ladder putting decorations on a Christmas tree. I read the book when I was in my early teens.
I see from the time line that there were definitely 7 children. I was slightly confused about the mention of 5 in the Industrial Revolutionaries...but it had been a long time since I had read Maria Von Trapp's book.

Ray-Anne said...

There has to be a book in that true story of Agathe Whitehead from Bolton or the UK docks, to Austria and the life she must have led around WW1.
Now I wonder who could write something like that...[ Ray-Anne looks sideways at Michelle]

Angie said...

There were 10 children all together. Agathe Whitehead had 7 children and then Maria had 3 more.

Owen said...