ITHACA, N.Y. — “Could there really be piles of wizard gold buried miles beneath them? Were there really shops that sold spell books and broomsticks?,” Harry Potter wondered as he went to Diagon Alley for the first time in chapter five of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”
Whether wizard gold lays buried under the city of Ithaca has yet to be determined by muggles (non-magic folks), but the shops, enchanted Commons and a magical alleyway were real to thousands of people who traveled by broomstick, floo powder and flying Ford Anglia for the third annual Wizarding Weekend.
Many of the favorite events from last year made a reappearance this year, such as Hogwarts acceptance letters, live-action wizard chess and the sorting hat.
Here are six new things we loved, in no particular order:
1) Indomitable spirit in the face of horrible weather
Going into Wizarding Weekend, there was a forecasted three to five inches of rain anticipated Sunday. While Ithaca weather was literally perfect for attendees Saturday, the rain and wind rolled in at night and has persisted through the rest of the weekend.
But that didn’t stop the Wizarding magic from happening.
Organizers moved the event indoors to Center Ithaca and Hotel Ithaca. The show went on for performers at the awning in front of the State Street Theatre. Several booths stayed open along West State Street. A huge line formed at the Sorting Hat attraction, which was set up under the Cornell Store awning. And the Tompkins County Public Library stuck to their schedule for the day.
Sunday was not like Saturday, and after two years of great weather for the festival, it can be tempting to say that this year ended up being a bust.
But watching kids in wizarding robes scurry around in the gentle rain shouting hexes at each other and seeing faces light up as fans got their Hogwarts acceptance letter puts a stop to that thought.
Rain or shine, the magic was still very real for us.
2) Storefronts and everybody getting in on the action
Last year, a few storefronts on the Commons decorated for Wizarding Weekend. But this year, it feels like nearly every business went all-out with witchy decor weeks before the event, getting locals pumped for the last weekend of the month.
Business owners don’t have to do that, but it’s pretty cool that they do.
Having magical decor stretch from the Press Bay Alley area through the Commons and toward Dewitt Mall is one of the things that really sets the scene for the festival.
And the downtown businesses aren’t the only ones that help make the festival feel special.
For instance, the Tompkins County SPCA sorted their animals into Hogwarts houses and featured a new house everyday for four days, waiving adoption fees for featured cats. Restaurants and bars had wizard-themed food and cocktails. And Ithaca’s incredibly gifted makers created all kinds of crafts to sell.
The work the organizers of the festival do to make the magic happen with official events cannot be understated. But when the other people in the city chime in, that’s what helps makes the festival a realistic experience.
3) Harry Potter Legos
Legos inspired by the Harry Potter series were on-hand this year offering kids the chance to create their own versions of the HP universe just by stopping at the booth.
The Rotary Club of Trumansburg hosted the booth and raffled off a large Harry Potter lego figure made entirely by legos. With the optional raffle ticket costing only $1, this was one of the best free activity booths at the festival.
4) Moving Portraits glow up
To be clear, there were moving portraits during last year’s festival. But from our memory, the moving portraits majorly glowed up this year.
For those unfamiliar with the Potter universe, moving portraits are one of the most fascinating parts of the world. Bewitched paintings at Hogwarts and elsewhere have subjects that move and can speak. For instance, the subject of a painting can get bored and visit another painting or can be frustrated at a person for flipping the lights on in the middle of the night.
The experience of moving portraits was expertly captured this year with not only screens depicting moving people, but with a real woman who appeared to be in a moving portrait herself and posing with photos for people.
We were sad not to see it Sunday, but it was certainly a sight to behold on Saturday.
5) Cause-themed booths
Last year, The Ithaca Voice featured The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network’s booth and the clever way people at the booth informed others about the important of taking care of Cayuga Lake. It was awesome and breathed local.
This year, the Advocacy Center had a cause-themed booth that encouraged people to sign up for Dumbledore’s Army and take a stand against domestic violence and sexual abuse.
At the table, volunteers handed out bracelets and information about local resources. They also collected sock and slipper donations for people at the organization’s domestic violence shelter.
We loved seeing this booth at the festival and hope to see this trend of cause-related booths continue next year.
— Advocacy Center (@AdvocacyTC) October 28, 2017
6) The Physics Bus on Cayuga Street
The Physics Bus is always a joy to see in the city. But having it prominently parked on Cayuga Street was the right move for organizers to make.
The bus offered free hands-on science activities for people that were magical in their own way.
While the operators of the bus are clearly muggles (see photo below), wizards and witches also appreciated the science behind the experiments the public was able to take part in.