Museums are one of those places that already have a magical quality about them. No matter what they contain, it's hard to ignore the sense of wonder that radiates from them and the contents inside waiting to be discovered. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is one of those wondrous institutions, but if you add a bit of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter as well it takes on another level of intrigue and opportunity for visitors to connect with what's in its halls. At least that's what happened when we were invited to check out Museum Hack's Boy Wizard tour of the famous museum.
The Boy Wizard tour takes place on the last Saturday of each month and is an unofficial, unlicensed hour and a half tour of the museum that brings some of the Wizarding World into its hallowed rooms. Guiding us on our particular adventure were the tour's creators, Museum Hack guides Kristina Geddes and Scott Johnson. The two were hired around the same time last year by the company. Geddes told SYFY Wire they were asked specifically about putting this tour together because Museum Hack checks to see what their guides are interested in and both are big Potter fans.
While the company had a successful Harry Potter tour in San Francisco, just because someone might pitch the idea of doing that elsewhere or ideas for other theme tours doesn't mean they happen if no one is passionate about the topic according to Geddes.
In January, they started putting the tour together and for Johnson, it was a labor of love as they rewatched the movies and reread the books. The tour launched in February.
"One of the things we really wanted to create was an experience that people loved because obviously, people love the books and they're treasured memories. People go back to them time and time again when they're looking for comfort, love, and family. I think it's really important for that," Geddes explained. "One of the things Scott and I had to contend with early on in building it was how do you take a fictional universe and put it in a real place and not make it feel ridiculous? We were really adamant about making sure it felt like something anyone who had any experience with that universe could enjoy, but also we literally work amongst magical items all day long."
The tour begins that magical connection when you head from the lobby to a rather fitting spot the boy wizard could relate to, underneath stairs. The references to Rowling's universe abound from the beginning, but for the most part they're not direct ones. The guides explain to the tour that they'll be skirting copyright in ways like saying Potter and saying Harry, but not saying those two words together.
They do an excellent job of hinting at the universe while respecting the franchise with creative puns, corny jokes, and references that are just close enough to what you know from the series that it's not hard to make the connection on your own. If you go in accepting that, the tour is a lot of fun. Security is referred to as ministry guards, the guides are head boy and girl, and props play an important role in your wizarding journey.
At the start, you receive a letter informing you of your place in Museum Hack's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and soon you're walking through the halls and being sorted into Houses. These Houses include the prideful lions and sneaky snakes and your choice impacts certain aspects of the tour. As we wandered we looked at fantastic beasts gracing an old fireplace, at what one civilization considered a magic wand, took school photos, and moved from room to room to take classes like astronomy and potions that involved examining related items in the museum. We received chocolate before heading to some "darker" parts of the tour and our happy thoughts towards the end had us walking around the corner where the perfect connection to a patronus was revealed in the form of a glittering deer.
It also had quite a few interactive elements. Guests were asked to keep an eye out for what they thought would fit what were called the horribly cursed containers, aka horcruxes, on a list they handed out. We could take photos of what we thought fit the items on the list and whoever collected the most or had the most creative choices at the end won a prize. At one point, we went hands on with Defense Against the Dark Arts by dispersing, looking at portraits. snapping a photo of one, and coming back to explain who this wizard or witch was, their crime, and how we caught them. Yet another section was all about having a Quidditch style scavenger hunt where the winner won a golden snitch.
The tour tries to include something for everyone so while some might prefer a tour that sticks to a more traditional style, others might get a kick out of taking the time to look around on their own and fulfill these tasks. If you want explicit references, this may not be the tour for you and something much more direct, like the British Library's official exhibit, could be a better fit. However, the enthusiasm of the guides for both the museum and Harry Potter made even parts of the tour we were unsure about well worth it. Geddes and Johnson were energetic, interacted with all the guests, and were knowledgeable about their subjects. Their energy stayed high the whole time and eventually, even if you don't like puns, it was hard not to smile at the ways they tried to honor the series while not violating copyright.
Of course, each tour experience can be different. The tour is always changing as the guides rewrite and rework jokes, and have to work around the museum's own updates. Geddes said they probably have about six or seven versions at this point to account for the arrival of new exhibits changing things and exhibits temporarily closing down. They use the museum's libraries and docents to make sure they are well informed and they never forget the magic of what's already around them. For example, we saw an incredible narwhal tusk on the tour and Geddes explained that historically most unicorn horns are narwhal tusks. To have the chance to stand next to something literally magically is "insane" to her.
The creators both hope that their tour will help make museums feel more accessible to people and help people where Harry Potter is the entry point relate to the museum more. To Geddes, museums can sometimes be stodgy, but it's still possible to have fun and having that fun doesn't distract from people walking away learning things.
"There can be this kind of old school mentality that you have to be serious in here and we need to spend time with every object in total reverence, but some objects don't speak to me and I don't relate to them," she said. "Maybe someday I will if hear it a different way, but if people come in here and they love the Potter universe, they will engage suddenly and then see things they probably wouldn't have looked at."
Johnson described the experience of these tours as wanting to take people on a real-life adventure.
"We want to be the ambassadors of fun and make museums accessible to everybody and be a household name," he said. "That way anybody can feel like they have a home inside a museum."
The next Boy Wizard tour will take place tomorrow, August 25.