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When a von Trapp lived in Walpole

July 1, 2015

A member of the famed Trapp Family Singers, on whom the 1965 film “The Sound of Music” is based, once lived a nondescript life as a resident of Walpole.

Eleonore “Lorli” Von Trapp Campbell lived at 519 Elm Rd. in Walpole for ten years, between 1958 and 1968. The old farmhouse they lived in, which dates to the early 1700s, was recently sold to a new owner.

Lorli herself is not portrayed in the award-winning film, because it is based only on the first seven children of her father, Austrian naval Capt. George Ritter von Trapp, and his first wife Agathe Whitehead von Trapp. Capt. Von Trapp married Maria Augusta Kutschera in 1927, and they had three more children, including Lorli.

Maria was the basis for Julie Andrews’ lead role in the film, as a nun in training who was asked to take care of the von Trapp children.

Lorli was born in 1931. In 1936, the family began touring Europe as the Trapp Family Singers. They eventually fled their home country of Austria, which had been taken over by the Nazis, and emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1930s. They settled in Vermont where they started the Trapp Family Lodge, and continued to tour the country as a singing group.

According to the 1998 book “The World of the Trapp Family,” by William Anderson and David Wade, Lorli was part of her family’s singing group from 1943 to 1953, and was the first soprano. Even after 1953, Lorli continued to sing with the group.

(1966 picture of the Trapp Family Singers in Stowe, Vermont. Lorli Campbell is at far left.)

Lorli married Hugh David Campbell in 1954. Her family performed its last concert in 1956. The Campbells originally lived in Vermont after marriage, but Walpole street listings indicate the Campbells lived in Connecticut immediately prior to moving to town in 1958. Lorli’s occupation in street listings during her entire ten-year residence in Walpole was listed as “Housewife,” while her husband was listed as a “Teacher.” Hugh apparently taught French, and coached soccer, at the Roxbury Latin School in Boston.

Lorli’s name was listed in the street listings as “Eleanor E. Campbell.” This Americanized incorrect spelling of her first name, Eleonore, appears to be accidental, as there is no record of her spelling it at any other time in any other way than her given name.

The Campbells had seven daughters, Elizabeth (“Libet”), Peggy, Jeanie, Polly, Erika, Hope and Martina. The oldest children did attend the Stone School in Walpole briefly, but eventually transferred to Beaver Country Day School.

Carol Johnson, who has lived on Elm Road most of her life and often babysat for the oldest Campbell daughters, said Lorli did not speak in a noticeable dialect, but often dressed in what appeared to be Austrian attire. Her dark brown hair was typically braided, Johnson recalled.

Johnson also recalls that Lorli’s mother, Maria, occasionally visited the family in Walpole. The Campbells frequently entertained guests.

The house occupies a large 1.67-acre property that adjoins Elm Street, that also included a large barn. The interior of the house remains largely unchanged from the time that the Von Trapps lived there. The Campbells also built an underground bomb shelter at the home, which remains to this day. Photos posted online by the home’s recent listing agent indicate that the house still possesses many of its original 1700s-era characteristics. Johnson recalls that the Campbells heated the house primarily with fireplaces, and the interior temperature could be frigid at times. Probably because Hugh’s teaching salary was the family’s only source of income, the family seemed to live a relatively frugal life.

“The Sound of Music” play, based on the family, made its debut in Broadway in 1959, and the legendary film based on that play won several Academy Awards in 1965, after its release, including an Oscar for Best Picture.

Johnson said she eagerly watched the film soon after it came out, but doesn’t recall the Campbells ever mentioning it. Although residents of the neighborhood knew of her family’s fame, the family itself never seemed to discuss it.

Outside of the immediate neighborhood, she was not particularly well known, and there do not appear to have been any reports in the local media that mentioned her during her time in Walpole.

Johnson said the family frequently visited the family lodge in Vermont.

Lorli and her family left Walpole in 1968, to move to Rhode Island, so that Hugh could take a job as headmaster of the Rocky Hill Preparatory School.

Both of the Campbells are still alive today, living in Waitsfield, Vermont. None of Lorli’s seven half-siblings, the original members of the singing group, are alive, however both of her siblings, Rosmarie and Johannes, are alive. The Campbell daughters now reside in various parts of the country.

One document available online seems to indicate that Hugh Campbell once served on the Waitsfield town Selectboard, but this could not be directly confirmed.

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