It’s been 20 years since the U.S. publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the stories just keep on giving. The latest is a new Harry Potter-themed exhibit at the New-York Historical Society that dives deep into author JK Rowling’s inspiration around magic and mythology. Bring the kids, wander among ancient artifacts detailing real-life witchcraft, check out original Potter manuscripts, interact with potions, crystals and tarot cards, and watch connections emerge between wizardry in the real world and its fictional translation to the Hogwarts universe. Find out what to expect in our review below!

photo: Emily Myers

Hogwarts Curriculum
The exhibition begins by walking through Hogwart’s wooden castle doors and under flying books. The rooms are organized around the same subjects Harry and pals study at school. First up is Potions and Alchemy. You’ll quickly discover there’s a long history to cooking up magic, searching for immortality and trying to turn base metals into gold. Texts from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are on display with rich illustrations detailing the rituals involved.

There’s a 20-foot scroll dating from 1570 with drawings of dragons, winged kings, lions, and intricate symbols. It hints at the significance of the names Rubeus, Albus and, Black. Muggles might miss it, but it provides a recipe for how to make the Philosopher’s Stone. Next to it, there’s a tarred up cauldron, loaned from The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, England. It’s got irresistible charm and it’s hard not to imagine the witches who apparently fled when their potion exploded.

photo: Emily Myers

Unique Additions
It’s a year since Harry Potter: A History of Magic opened in London and became The British Museum’s most successful exhibition to date. Now at the New-York Historical Society, it has some unique additions. Illustrator Brian Selznick’s new artwork for the 20th anniversary editions are on show for the first time, and for the first time in the U.S, Rowling’s handwritten drafts of The Philosopher’s Stone and Deathly Hallows are displayed. Texts on the Salem witch trials have been added to the exhibition and there’s a giant steamer trunk in the entrance, which was used to carry a signed copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to the U.S. when it first came out.

photo: © The Board of the Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Ancient Artifacts
Some of the pieces on show date back thousands of years like a Chinese atlas thought to be the oldest map of the night sky. There’s a walnut-sized 17th-century bezoar, something Harry uses to save Ron when he drinks poisoned mead. There are texts the size of tombstones (as well as an actual tombstone) and they have names like, A Discourse of Witchcraft as it was Acted in the Family of Mr. Edward Fairfax of Flystone. Luckily for visitors, the books are filled with vivid and dramatic artwork and it’s the pictures that have played such a big role in how ideas of witches and magic have rooted themselves in our imagination.

photo: ©British Library Board

Original Manuscripts
For budding authors who want to learn about JK Rowling’s writing process, there are lots of manuscripts and original sketches propped open behind glass. Margins are filled with notes to revisit dialogue and there are detailed maps of Hogwarts as well as story outlines and character sketches. Rowling isn’t the only one to have her jottings and ideas poured over; in a room dedicated to astronomy, there are pages from a notebook of sixteenth-century artist and inventor, Leonardo da Vinci.

photo: © Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle

Interactive Elements
While most of the exhibition is in display cases (and photography is restricted) there are just enough interactive elements to keep younger fans interested. There’s an area where you can mix a virtual potion, hear story paragraphs read aloud, read images in a crystal ball, or have your tarot cards flipped. The broomsticks are too high to mount (and no sign of a Nimbus 2000) but an animated snitch hovers above and there’s a colorful broomstick whose owner apparently used it to leap around Dartmoor on a full moon.

photo: Emily Myers

Audio Element
Download the Audible app before you go to access a free guide to the exhibition on your phone. There’s an evocative soundtrack with readings from relevant chapters, contributions from curators and experts and it pairs with a book available to buy in the museum store. The corridor as you leave isn’t quite Diagon Alley but you will be able to pick up books, wands, and even a stuffy of Hagrid’s three-headed hound, Fluffy. Tickets for the show have a timed entry and staff suggest 45 minutes to take in all the exhibits. Fans hungry for more can also take part in family events like trivia nights, art workshops, and writing classes.

Oct. 5, 2018-Jan. 27, 2019
Tickets: Adults/$21, Seniors/$16, Students/$13, Kids under 13/$6; Kids under 4/free.
Hours: Tues, Thurs and Sat 10 a. m. – 6 p. m., Fri 10 a. m. – 8 p. m., Sun  11 a. m. – 5 p. m. Closed Mon.
170 Central Park West
at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street)
212-873-3400
Online: nyhistory.org

—Emily Myers

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