I have, on more than one occasion, referred to New York City as "magic," but I always meant it figuratively. Until now. Beginning on Friday, Oct. 5, The
New-York Historical Society's "Harry Potter: A History Of Magic" exhibit will bring literal magic to Manhattan.
The exhibit, which originally ran at The British Library in London, includes a treasure trove of rare Harry Potter documents and illustrations (some of which are from the personal collection of author J.K. Rowling) as well as items on loan from Scholastic and Bloomsbury, the publishers of the Harry Potter series, and from museums from around the world.
"Harry Potter: A History of Magic" is divided into sections, which mimic the classes of Hogwarts: Charms, Potions, Astronomy, Care and Keeping of Magical Animals, Defense Against the Dark Arts, etc. Each of these sections contains both J.K. Rowling's creation process and a history of the magic that shaped her fictional world. For instance, in the section on Potions, you can view historical texts that discussed potions classes long before Hogwarts was created. As you tour the space, you can examine crystal balls, read from ancient spell books, and play with special exhibits, like an interactive cauldron. It's an enlightening, illuminating, and yes, magical exploration of the real-life history that inspired what is arguably the most beloved fantasy series of all time.
Photo courtesy of Cristina Arreola Photo courtesy of Cristina Arreola Book your tickets now — the exhibit only runs through January 2019. Here's a little bit of what you can expect:
Extremely Old (And Very Interesting) Texts About The History Of Magic
Jacob Meydenbach [H]ortus Sanitatis Mainz, 1491; © British Library Board
The exhibit is stocked with tons of fascinating books, like
[H]ortus Sanitatis, a text from 1491 that depicts students in a potions class. There's dozens of books like this scattered throughout the exhibit, and many of them are the roots of the magical ideas, items, and creatures found in J.K. Rowling's fantasy world. (Rowling even owned a copy of one of the texts — Culpeper Herbal — and used it to name the herbs and potions in the series.)
Proof That Nicolas Flamel Was A Real Person (RIP)
Tombstone of Nicolas Flamel Paris, 15th century; © Paris, Musée de Cluny - Musée national du Moyen Âge
You've probably heard of Nicolas Flamel. He's the alchemist who, according to the lore of Rowling's novel, made the Philosopher's Stone. But did you know that Nicolas Flamel was a very real human being who made a fortune as a landlord in medieval Paris? Yep. After he died in 1418, rumors spread that he had discovered the Philosopher's Stone. He was buried in Paris, and his tombstone (which was allegedly found being used as a cutting board in a grocery) can be seen in the exhibit, a true treat for goth Potterheads.
Broomsticks Owned By Actual Witches!
A broomstick belonging to Olga Hunt; © Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle
Well, it's not a Nimbus 2000, but it
did belong to a real witch. This broomstick, featured in the exhibit, was owned by 20th-century witch Olga Hunt of Manaton, Devon. According to legend, she used to fly around Dartmoor on the nights with full moons. A true icon.
Manuscripts & Illustrations Belonging To J.K. Rowling
Portrait of Professor Remus Lupin by Jim Kay; On loan from Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
The exhibit features tons of rare documents, including original illustrations, outlines, notes, and manuscripts drawn and written by J.K. Rowling. These include illustrations of Peeves the Poltergeist and a hand-written draft of the Sorting Hat song. Unfortunately, photos of Rowling's personal objects are not allowed
, so you'll have to visit the exhibit to see them.
However, you can see (and take photos of) the many illustrations created by others. The portrait above is of Professor Remus Lupin, drawn by Jim Kay, one of the four illustrators whose work is featured in the exhibit. The others are Mary GrandPré, Kazu Kibuishi, and Brian Selznick.
Fascinating Facts About Magic, Like The Root Of The Spell "Abracadabra"
Liber Medicinalis, detail Canterbury, 13th century; ©British Library Board
You probably cannot read this 13th century text (I definitely can't) but according to the fine people at the New-York Historical Society, this is actually a very important piece of magical history: The first recorded instance of the spell "Abracadabra," which was believed to be a healing charm. According to the society: "The word should be repeatedly written out, each time omitting one letter. The charm was then worn as an amulet around the neck, in order to drive out the fever."
Trivia About The Magical Creatures Featured In The Series
Photo courtesy of Cristina Arreola
In the section of the exhibit dedicated to the Care and Keeping of Magical Creatures, you can find a number of texts on the history of mythical creatures, such as the phoenix, the hippogriff, the dragon, and the unicorn. You will also see a unicorn horn!
Tons Of Magical Books That Have Nothing To Do With Harry Potter
Photo courtesy of Cristina Arreola
This text, titled
Old Egyptian Fortune-Teller's Last Legacy, details what are supposedly Egyptian divination techniques. (The writer was an anonymous Brit, so take their advice with a grain of salt.) It contains instructions on how to read palms and how to use the moles on your body to divine the future. Extremely handy, pardon the pun.
A Recipe To Create Your Own Philosopher's Stone
The Ripley Scroll, detail England, ca. 1570 General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
Above is a detail from The Ripley Scroll, an alchemical manuscript that stretches for 20 feet and describes exactly how to make the Philosopher's Stone. Its name comes from George Ripley, the author of
The Compound of Alchymy. It was created in 1570, and is presumably extremely useful, except that the "precise meanings of the alchemical icons are not completely understood," according to the New-York Historical Society. Bummer.
Stories About The Witches Who Lived Long Before Hermione & Luna
Photo courtesy of Cristina Arreola
If you're interested in the history of
real witches (who isn't?), this is the exhibit for you. This text from 1797, titled Wonders!!!! Past, Present, and to Come; Being the Strange Prophecies and Uncommon Predictions of the Famous Mother Shipton, details the adventures of a woman known as The Yorkshire Prophetess. She was supposedly able to levitate, and she made a number of famous prophecies —including that Cardinal Wolsey, the new Archbishop of York, would see the city in the distance but would never reach it. He was later arrested on his approach to York, and died afterwards. Spooky.
For tickets to "Harry Potter: A History Of Magic,"
visit the New-York Historical Society's official website. The exhibit runs from Oct. 5, 2018 through Jan. 27, 2019.