When the British Library's Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition debuted last fall in London to mark the 20th anniversary of the series' U.K. publication, we were spellbound. It felt like we were walking through the halls and classrooms of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Now the exhibit has made its way across the pond to the New York Historical Society to mark the U.S. anniversary of Harry Potter's publication by Scholastic, and the magic made a seamless journey across the ocean.
The New York Historical Society's Harry Potter: A History of Magic opened Friday and follows the same format as its British counterpart — a smart choice, given that the exhibition was the library's biggest-ever success. Each section of the exhibit is inspired by a subject students can study at Hogwarts: Potions, Alchemy, Herbology, Divination, Charms, Astronomy, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Care of Magical Creatures. There's a small intro area before you head into Potions and continue through the subjects until you reach a wrap-up room called "Past, Present, and Future."
The topical rooms focus on the Harry Potter subjects, their place in the wizarding world, and their connections to our own Muggle history and mythology. Throughout are scattered real-world historical artifacts, as well as Harry Potter imagery and items, such as J.K. Rowling's early drafts and sketches.
The exhibition includes a few differences from its British counterpart in both design and content. Visitors are guided to the entrance by books flying overhead, and there are two installations on view before walking through the archway to the main area. On one side, fans can view the steamer trunk that carried a signed copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in 2005. On the other side, a wall displays the work of four prominent Harry Potter artists.
On public view for the first time are Mary GrandPré's original cover illustrations, Brian Selznick's new anniversary cover art, and Kazu Kibushi's cover art for the Scholastic 15th-anniversary box set. The work of Jim Kay is also featured here, as it is throughout the exhibition in stunning portraits of professors and other Potter subjects.
Some of the items included in the exhibit were part of the exhibition in London and remain must-sees for visitors, such as the Ripley Scroll, which explains how to make the Philosopher's Stone, and the gravestone of Nicolas Flamel. The invisibility cloak, provided by a private lender, also makes a reappearance — in a way. There are also items being displayed in America for the first time, like Rowling's first draft of The Philosopher's Stone and some of Kay's sketches.
Other pieces were added from American institutions, such as oracle bones in Divination from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, toward the end, where there's more to see about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts movies, a study for the Woolworth building by architect Cass Gilbert, where we know MACUSA is located. Cursed Child costumes are also on display when you get past the store full of wondrous Harry Potter goodies.
Throughout it all, the atmosphere immerses you in this magical world so you forget about the busy streets outside. Just like in London, you'll find music and sound effects greet you in the classrooms, from the sound of a snitch flying overhead amid the broomsticks clatter in Charms or the sound of unicorn hooves walking the walls in Care of Magical Creatures. Books, portraits, and beautifully crafted displays make it feel like you're walking through the very classrooms of professors like Snape and Trelawny.
In Herbology, there's a wonderful little nook full of plants and sporting gnomes, with a book about gnomes open on loan from the Library of the New York Botanical Garden. It feels like Professor Sprout could walk in at any moment. You can even try your hand at interactive elements from the original exhibit by brewing a potion or gazing into a crystal ball.
After the final room, you head toward the store and costumes by walking down a long hallway. Here you'll find international editions of the books and books with the special 20th-anniversary covers, all while excerpts from the audiobooks are played.
The New York Historical Society successfully brings the British LIbrary exhibition to America. There's a sense of fun and wonder in how things are arranged and what's included throughout the History of Magic exhibition that's fittingly Harry Potter. It captures the spirit of the series while connecting it to our own history, which makes both the historical and the fictional elements it inspired infinitely more fascinating.
The exhibition will remain open at the New York Historical Society until January 27, 2019. Throughout its run, there will be various related events that you can learn more about on their website.