“Harry Potter: the Exhibition” Fan Report #1

by Heather Putman

The Exhibition was hosted at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois, from April 30, 2009, to September 27, 2009. This was its first stop.

I was lucky enough to receive tickets to a special members-only preview of Harry Potter: The Exhibition this Sunday before it opens to the public. After a long walk through a winding, white tent, a “wizard” named John ushers all the visitors into a darkened hall with a jovial British accent, “Come on, come on! All o’ yeh get in thar! Nice an’ tight now!” He presents us with a stool on which is placed the Sorting Hat, beneath an elaborate stained-glass window archway. After requesting some volunteers to be sorted into their favorite house (sadly, he passed over the adult hands in the crowd) and the voice of the Sorting Hat booms “Ravenclaw!” or “Gryffindor!” the wizard leads us through the tall wooden doors into a pitch-black room. Suddenly, five screens, each framed like a portrait, light the room with highlights from the films.

We see the beginning of Harry’s journey to Hogwarts, key events, and finally the whooshing of train compartment windows as they flash through the screens. The music mounts, and “Hedwig’s Theme” is in perfect, dramatic timing as a pair of wide oak doors open to our side and a single light gleams through a mist of steam and the screech of an engine – the Hogwarts Express. “Quickly now, quickly!” shouts a cloaked witch holding a dusty lantern. We pass by a life-size Hogwarts Express as we walk across the Hogsmeade platform, where the air is foggy and the trees surrounding us rustle with the cry of the engine. Beside the witch looms a large tree with a “Have You Seen This Wizard?” poster of Sirius Black tacked to it. Rounding the corner, a group of portraits used as part of the set on the films greets you – literally, greets you. Some sigh and smile, while others partake in whatever activity they’re painted doing (my favorite was the portrait of lovers on a swing in a cemetery), and some are as silent as ones in the Muggle world. The Fat Lady tries to impress you with her vocal talents as you pass through her archway into the Gryffindor common room. The dorms are depicted on one side, the common room on the other.

In the common room, you can see Hermione, Neville, and Ginny’s robes from Order of the Phoenix, as well as memorable character props. Beside Hermione’s robes are, in a glass case, her Time-Turner, several school books, and her wand. Neville’s trinkets include his dancing shoes from Goblet of Fire, a few Herbology textbooks, and his Mimbulus Mimbletonia. Also in this case is (to my complete and utter joy) the DA list of members – each of the signatures unique. Behind them is a tapestry used in the common room in many scenes – the dull rouge-colored one with medieval figures and fleur-de-lis emblazoned on its cloth. Ginny’s robes are here as well, her cardigan and longer skirt mark the distinction from Hermione’s. Across from the common room motif is Harry and Ron’s dormitory set. Both of their beds are here, as well as their trunks and several costumes. Each bed is clothed differently – Harry’s, in a plain red wool blanket, and Ron’s in a Mrs. Weasley-knit throw. Ron’s hat from Prisoner of Azkaban is here (also to my delight – it always makes me laugh!) and so is one of his “R” sweaters from Goblet of Fire. Before his bed lies his open trunk, which contains his broken wand mended with Spell-o-Tape from Chamber of Secrets, his Chudley Cannons gear – including an autographed T-shirt by the team – the text, Quidditch Teams of Ireland and Britain, and – most delightfully – his Howler, both the envelope and the torn letter from Mrs. Weasley. Between his and Harry’s beds stand their robes. The terrific thing about how these are displayed is that they reflect the attitudes of their characters – they are not all prim and ironed on the mannequins, but portrayed as how the character would wear them. Ron’s are disheveled with a helpless tie hanging around the shoulders, while Harry’s are more put-together, but crinkled around the neck. Harry’s trunk is perhaps the main event of this set of the exhibit. Inside are his letter of acceptance to Hogwarts – such an icon, it’s surreal to see it physically before you – his glasses, the Marauder’s Map, his wand from Sorcerer’s Stone, and the box of chocolate cauldrons that Romilda Vane gives him in Half-Blood Prince. When I ask one of the wizards, “Where’s his Invisibility Cloak?” the gent smiles and asks me, “Don’t you see it?” This ends the dormitory scenes as we progress toward different classroom sets.

The first is Potions, where Snape and Slughorn’s costumes are, in addition to various potion bottles, texts, cauldrons, jars of hair grease (just kidding), and their wands. My mother made the remark, “Whose robes are those? I like the high black collar. Those are sexy.” I about lost it, and was barely able to mutter through my giggling, “Those are Snape’s.” Just as we turn, the exhibit is infected with a vicious case of pink-eye. Tweed suits, kitten plates, and a bubblegum-colored wall denote the lodgings of Professor Umbridge. Most notable is the desk at which Harry sits to complete his detention in OotP, on which sits that evil quill and the scroll with bloodied ink repeatedly stating, “I must not tell lies.

Across from Umbridge’s eyesore of a set is Defense Against the Dark Arts, displaying the costumes and props of Professors Lockhart and Lupin. Lockhart’s is incredibly detailed – all his lavender stationery, teacher’s edition quizzes, photos that Harry helps to autograph as part of his detention, and his complete works are here. Beside his glorious Dueling Club robes and his golden, teaching robes is the enormous self-portrait and one of the pesky blue Cornish Pixies. Lupin’s is diminutive in grandeur by comparison, but his tattered robes are here beside his collection of “wizard waltz” records and the Boggart closet, which rattles and makes a racket. There is also the jack-in-a-box that one of the Patil twins transforms from her Boggart as a vicious viper. Seeing it in the movie was one thing; after seeing it in real life, given the choice, I think I’d take on the snake. Professor Trelawney occupies the space near Umbridge’s office. The bulbous-eyed glasses and crystal ball – as well as the teacup with the Grimm in its tea leaves! – are on the table beside Trelawney’s magnificent robes of green silk and beading.

Next is Herbology – which you can sense as you hear the Mandrakes cry from across the exhibition hall. This is one of the many interactive parts of the exhibit. While touching the artifacts is strictly prohibited, they do include some things to occupy your itchy hands. The Mandrakes are fun to pull and hear squeal until you shove them back in the dirt. Almost lovingly beside them stands Professor Sprout’s attire from CoS, as well as her gardening tools.

The next section of the exhibit concentrates on the Hogwarts Grounds – Quidditch, Hagrid’s Hut, and the Forbidden Forest. Quidditch steals my attention in this part. Displayed is the full set of balls that Oliver Wood shows Harry in SS, on top of which are crossed Harry’s Nimbus 2000 and Draco Malfoy’s Nimbus 2001 – the latter of which is very sleek, I might add. Next to these is another interactive portion, where we can throw Quaffles through the three golden hoops. I decide to try my hand at it, and a five-year-old’s [Quaffle] diverts mine to make his goal instead. There’s a reason I wasn’t picked for my house team. Before moving on to the vast remainder of Quidditch artifacts, I look behind me at Hagrid’s Hut and garden, where Buckbeak stands. His patient expression amidst the pumpkins is not characteristic of his feisty demeanor, but he still seems the gentle giant beside Harry, Ron and Hermione’s clothing worn during the execution scene in PoA. They’re dirty and worn to perfection, and I noticed I have the same rainbow belt and pink hoodie as Emma Watson did in this film. Looming behind them is a freakish pumpkin-headed scarecrow, and beside that is the costume worn by Macnair, the executioner. Hagrid’s Hut is right beside this, as it should be, boasting a spacious living quarters for non-giants to tour. His costume stands on a mannequin that made my mom jump with fright – it’s about eight feet tall and just as wide. One of the helpful wizards explained to us that, most of the time, Hagrid actor Robbie Coltrane’s stand-in wore this costume, as Robbie had to bulk up with twice as much material to suit Hagrid’s shape. Apparently, the stand-in could really be considered a half-giant! They used him for scenes when they shot his back, and from far away. Across from this formidable presence is Hagrid’s chair, which the kids sit in during CoS. We are welcome to take a breather as well, though getting up and out of this monstrous chair seems more effort than it’s worth! My 6’2″ brother feels – and looks! – so tiny in it! Hagrid’s table and fireplace alone are enough to dwarf us all. The fire is crackling and toasty, while on the table quivers Norbert’s un-hatched egg. Hagrid’s pink umbrella is preserved in a case across from it.

Doubling back to see the remaining Quidditch sets, I am stunned to see the sheer quantity of costumes they salvaged! The attire of Madame Hooch, the Irish National Team, Harry at tryouts in HBP, Viktor Krum, and Ron as keeper in HBP are all staggered in the fan stands. The detail is exquisite. Though you only see them in a flash during the flying sequences, the designers put quite a bit of effort into making them pristine, realistic, and gorgeous. Beside[s] these… is what I quickly deem the arena of hotness. The Quidditch robes of the objects of fangirls’ love dominate this end of the exhibit hall. Oliver Wood, Cedric Diggory, and Draco Malfoy’s robes are polished and pristinely displayed beneath boards from the trophy room that list each house’s Quidditch captains. The curators were certainly thinking when they placed “PLEASE, DO NOT TOUCH” signs every three inches in front of the costumes that these eligible men wore.

Across from this eye-catching display are the exit of Hagrid’s Hut, and the set of the Forbidden Forest. A whiff of dampness, or mold, catches in my nostrils as I view the life-size models of Bane and the other centaurs, a baby Thestral, and the Horntail’s Head amid patches of real moss and dark trees. It sets the mood perfectly. Once I exit the grounds, the dark arts are revealed through some of the most fascinating and detailed artifacts from the films. Quirrell’s robes and turban stand beside Harry’s red sweater and corduroys from SS, and beside them, the Sorcerer’s Stone, flaming-red and scarred, is skewered by a golden rod inside a glass case. Across from this is a display of the Death Eater’s robes from Goblet of Fire. Since the Klu Klux Klan-inspired look was retired when David Yates became director, these costumes have found a home in the exhibition hall. I really wanted to see the detailed masks revealed in OotP, but they seem to be still in use for Deathly Hallows filming. Several of the most striking dark objects appear before me. Looming above the visitors is the “Angel of Death,” the statue Wormtail uses to restrain Harry when the Triwizard Cup transports him to the graveyard. It’s only slightly intimidating – I just hope that scythe is attached firmly. Beside this is, fittingly, Voldemort’s robes Ralph Fiennes dons in this same scene. They are billowy and almost green up-close. His claw-base wand lies faithfully beside it. As I turn, a Dementor howls – right in my face. I jump back to see one of the figures used for filming PoA, and it’s no less frightening in real life as it is, computer-generated, in the film. My mood improves as I step beyond this – the Malfoys’ robes are next. Draco’s Slytherin uniform from SS – so wittle! – stands beside Lucius Malfoy’s costume from when he attends the Quidditch match in CoS. His hat, I’m pleased to see, has made it, and I resist the urge to rub it. I’m even more excited when I see his infamous cane. I fondly refer to it as the “pimp cane,” some call it “snakey,” but everyone recognizes it as uniquely his. I giggle a bit as I notice the snake’s fangs are a little rusty. Beyond this are wanted posters for each of the primary death eaters in HBP. Bellatrix’s and Fenrir Greyback’s catch my eye. I’m disappointed to later find that they don’t sell copies of these in the gift shop – they’re stellar props. A bit further stands two Azkaban uniforms, a traditional male’s as well as Bellatrix’s striped dress as shown in the mass-breakout scene in OotP. Between them stands a faithful Kreacher. Throughout this segment of the exhibit, the darkest part of the score and storm sound and visual effects set a perfect ambiance to gaze at the intriguing, darker side of Harry’s world. It’s flawlessly constructed and intimidates even a twenty-year-old who thought she had become desensitized to the frightening images and sets of the films – not so. I am scared out of my wits and I love every minute of it.

Around the corner and past another wall of portraits, the mood lifts. I enter the Great Hall! The costume and portrait of the Bloody Baron greet me as I step into the cathedral-like setting of perhaps the most famous of all Harry Potter sets. Dozens of candles float above my head, and great stone eagles flank the walls. There’s so much to see in this part! So, I summon strength to not take it all in at once, and settle on the first corner of the exhibit. The Triwizard champions’ robes are first: Cedric’s Hufflepuff robes, Viktor Krum’s fur cape, and Fleur Delacour’s absolutely stunning blue ensemble. I want her matching shoes. Behind them stands the seven-foot Triwizard Cup’s casket. The next portion depicts the Yule Ball in all its splendor. Various costumes circle a table laden with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and stand before a background of icicles and light blue crystal. Krum’s red suit and Hermione’s magenta silk gown demand attention first. The detail is gorgeous, and the jewelry and all the accessories are included in the display as well. Next is Ron’s – well, you can hardly call it “Yule Ball attire”; it’s certainly a costume! And it looks even more hideous in real life than it does in the film. As a fan of fashion, I think I’ve found my Boggart. Harry’s robes look debonair and stately, as do Cedric Diggory’s, which stand beside Harry’s. Cho’s champagne silk gown is exquisite. The detail in the silk beading and threading is breathtaking! Next to this display are the frosted-glass Triwizard Cup as well as Rita Skeeter’s notebooks and emerald green Quick Quotes Quill. Before I hit up the Head Table, I double back to see what’s along the other wall – candy! Hogsmeade treats, in packaging and in colored shopping bags, litter the floors of several displays – seems they simply picked up the floor of the Gryffindor common room. Exploding Snap packs and Quidditch board games are among the rows and rows of sweets. The main event in this line of goodies is Fred and George’s Skiving Snackboxes, the set of which opens like a glorious pyramid of class-ditching saviors. The Fever Fudge, Puking Pastilles, and Fainting Fancies are all brightly colored but compact enough to sneak into class undetected. Best of all, a large “W” label adorns the box. The school robes of Fred and George stand idly by this tome of deliciousness; like all the robes, these are tailored to the character. Fred’s looks pretty well put-together, while George’s are more relaxed and undone. The Head Table. Finally. Fawkes looms in a case overlooking the Sorting Hat, his sympathetic eyes as heart-wrenching as they were in the film. The table beside him boasts the looks of Professor McGonagall – her Yule Ball gown and fabulous feathered hat – and Professor Dumbledore – his Yule Ball robes and his Welcoming Feast robes – and equally wicked hat – from PoA. So, wondering where Dobby is? I was too, after I saw Kreacher had his place beside his mistress, Bellatrix. Dobby is hiding, and for good reason… Because he’s naked. Horrifyingly naked. Yes, my friends. Cowering behind Dumbledore, Dobby stands in all his glorious elfish wonder, with more detail than five-year-olds, twenty-year-olds, or anyone for that matter should have to witness. Not only does he not have his enslaving burlap sack, he has no clothes at all! Is this a symbol? Some sort of sick prank by the curators? I do not know, but the image still haunts me as I write this. Be warned, future visitors. Be warned. So, um, next to Dumbledore and (naked!) Dobby are Sirius Black’s robes from OotP, and next to those is Tonks’ red reptilian skin jacket. The detail, like everything else in this exhibit, is extraordinary. The music reaches a brilliant, conclusive note as I head through the door to the left of the Head Table, and exit the exhibit to the images and sounds of applauding portraits. Don’t be alarmed! You’ll still be high on Potter as you enter the gift shop, constructed in the form of Diagon Alley. They offer an array of merchandise – some of which is unique only to the exhibit – and were persuasive enough to make me spend the equivalent of two paychecks. It’s no matter, though, because this is something I will tell my children about one day, when they read Harry Potter. The moments of my favorite series brought to breathtaking life are something I will treasure, so this exhibit – if you can manage to make it – is well worth the visit.

Don’t forget to check out Mugglenet’s report by our own Eric Scull, as well as our bonus report by MuggleNet reader Selena.


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