What, do you wonder, does Harry Potter have anything to do with the New York Historical Society – or even with the city itself?
Well, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the New York release of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," the beginning of JK Rowling's sprawling series. That and the fact that their "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" took place in New York in the 1920s was reason enough, says NYHS curator Cristian Panaite, to justify "Harry Potter: A History of Magic."
only a Muggle would argue with a show that gives us owl feathers and broomsticks; huge paintings by Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall; Rowling's own sketches; plus mandrains, gnomes and a Merman. These are just a few of the 200 objects shown here, in 1
But the show is not just fantasy. Rowling rooted her adventures in real customs and ideas, and "Harry Potter: A History of Magic" takes up artifacts from around the world. You will see Leonardo da Vinci's thoughts about the moon in his notebook; an Ethiopian pamphlet on how to transform into a lion; and the gravestone of Nicolas Flamel. The latter was a 15th-century French alchemist who had allegedly found the philosopher's stone promising eternal life. His body disappeared from his grave, but Rowling's books immortalized him.
The exhibition, which was on Friday, was imported from the British British Library, where it was sold out in the first 10 days of its three-month run. "We've seen over 175,000 visitors," says British library curator Alexander Lock to the Post, "more than our last big show – on the Magna Carta." On the other hand, this show offered no invisibility cloak – or at least the hanger on which it sits.
There are several interactive displays, one of which reads your tarot cards. Pick up one of the flowerpots in the herbalism department and you'll hear Jim Dale talking about this topic from a Potter audio book.
This new show has a few things that its British predecessor has missed. Take a look at the 72-inch "Unicornhorn" borrowed from the New York Explorers Club, known as the Narwhal Tusk.
Unicorn horns, as Rowling fans and historians know, have been prized as a cure for just about anything that bothers you. Here is an old text that describes how best to catch one: it requires the lap of a virgin in which a unicorn sleeps while a hunter sneaks on it.
As far as both British and American curators are concerned One of the greatest treasures is the Ripley Scroll, a 20 foot long, richly illustrated, medieval guide to making a Philosopher's Stone.
This last sentence inspired the title of Harry Potter's first UK-published book. Here in New York, scholastic Arthur Levine feared that any mention of "philosophy" would scare off American readers. In the letter shown here, he urges Rowling to go with "Harry Potter and the Magic School" instead. Seems "magic stone" was a compromise.
Harry's adventures now appear in 80 languages, including Hebrew and German. About two dozen books, including "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," are in a display case on the way to the Museum's souvenir shops, which are filled with Phoenix t-shirts, wool dampers, and chocolate sticks. Anyone looking for a sorting hat, Hufflepuff handbag, owl eyed throw pillow or Gringotts change purse can find them here for $ 33, $ 68, $ 52 and $ 18.95.
Not for sale is the note that started it all. When Rowling's agent churned around a box of Smartie chocolates in her first chapter, Bloomsbury Press editor Nigel Newton was too busy to read, so he left it for his 8-year-old daughter Alice.
She devoured it, chocolates and everything.
"The excitement [sic] in this book made me feel warm inside," she wrote her father. "I think it's possibly one of the best books an 8/9 year old could read."
Good name, Alice! And boy, we are grateful.
"Harry Potter: A History of Magic" runs until January 27 at the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West; nyhistory.org