15,000 “Harry Potter” Fans Flock to Ithaca’s Wizarding Weekend
It’s that time of year again! Witches and wizards alike have gathered in Ithaca’s Commons for a few days of magic in the Halloween spirit. This magical weekend is in its third year after it sprung into being in October 2015. Originally intended to be a few stores handing out Harry Potter-themed samples on Halloween, the Facebook event quickly went viral, and over 8,000 people turned up in Press Bay Alley. This year, over 15,000 people came out to celebrate Halloween Hogwarts style. There were food vendors, merchandise tables, and activities for wizards and witches of all ages.
We attended this event the first year it occurred and can attest to its growth. It was expanded further up the Commons, to accommodate the increase in attendance. Spreading out the crowd made it much less congested. There was also a greater variety of the food vendors this year. The menus offered options for vegetarians and people with different dietary needs. However, the event could do with a few more picnic tables. Finding a place to sit and eat was an adventure in itself.
One of the best parts of this event is the fact that it is free to attend. This means no one is turned away, and people of all ages and backgrounds get to enjoy the magic. There were families, high school kids, college kids, and couples of all ages. The activities also catered to the big age span of Potter fans. There was a bar crawl for the adults and crafts and slime making for the kids.
This is one of the only events we have been to that is held entirely outdoors. There are a bunch of shops and restaurants to explore on top of the food trucks and vendors provided by the event. Street performers entertained the masses up and down the nearly three blocks of the festival. There were also Sorting Ceremonies, wand dueling, and live quidditch matches. Unfortunately, the place where quidditch games were held was really hard to view unless you got there early and were able to secure a spot in the front.
The only major point of criticism is the need for differentiation in programming between the days. In order to keep people there longer and come back the next day, a bit more needs to be offered. It is a free event, so it’s understandable that there may be some limitations, but it is definitely possible to offer programming at little or no cost. Things like panel discussions, presentations, or even pub trivia in one of the local bars would be a great way to build on the event. We know the budget is probably tight for an event like this, but most panelists are volunteers anyway who just want to share their knowledge and theories with other fans. If the event organizers want to stick to the street fair format, that’s great, but in that case, they really shouldn’t try to stretch it to a full weekend.
Overall, it is a great outdoor event that brings Harry Potter fans together in New York. I can’t wait to see the growth and changes the coming years may bring.