Gryffindors and Boggarts and Quaffles, oh my!: Harry Potter launches at the Franklin Institute

The world premiere of a new Harry Potter exhibition is now open at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

The show is projected to be the most popular exhibition at the Franklin Institute, ever. The first weekend is already sold out through pre-sale tickets. The Franklin hopes the show will help reignite the tourism economy.

“Harry Potter: The Exhibition” was developed in partnership with Warner Brothers, which released all of the films of the Harry Potter franchise, aka the Wizarding World. The immersive exhibition features props and costumes from the films, and puts visitors inside rooms and key scenes from the Wizarding World.

“We think of them as celebratory rooms. They’re not exactly what the rooms would be like, but the right ingredients are there,” said Tom Zaller, president of Imagine Exhibitions, which created the show.

Imagine Exhibitions Inc President Tom Zaller invites the first visitors to enter the preview of ”Harry Potter™: The Exhibition” in Philadelphia on Feb. 17, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
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Zaller then named key elements of the exhibition, many of which may only be familiar to fans of Potter.

“We have a Defense Against the Dark Arts with a Boggart cabinet, so you can touch that screen and do a Riddikulus charm,” he said. “The Gryffindor sword, we have the Triwizard tournament cup. You touch a boot and you Portkey. You go through a Floo network, you see Dolores Umbridge’s office. You throw a quaffle into a Quidditch. You’re in Hagrid’s Hut. There’s a lot.”

Guests can play a little Quidditch at ”Harry Potter™: The Exhibition” at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The highly technological exhibition personalizes the experience to each visitor. Upon entry visitors are given a bracelet embedded with a chip, which they register with their name and email at a kiosk. In many places throughout the exhibition visitors can tap their bracelet to a small golden plaque (representing the Snitch, a semi-sentient, Potter-esque flying ball) to engage in various digital activities, such as mixing a potion, defeating a fear, or engaging a Patronus, a kind of mystical animal guardian.

“Everything you do, all the interactives that happen in the space, will be collected as your memories, which will email you afterwards,” said Zaller. “It’s personal when you’re here and then hopefully you can take something away with you.”

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The famous ”Sorting Hat” from the Harry Potter world, on display at ”Harry Potter™: The Exhibition” at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Franklin Institute is a science museum, but even its CEO, Larry Dubinski, admits the Wizarding World has very little real science in it. Instead, this exhibition is meant to be an economic driver for the suffering tourism industry, by encouraging the legion of Harry Potter fans to get back out in the world as the pandemic begins to lift.

The most recent available data from Visit Philadelphia shows that in 2020 tourism in Philadelphia dropped about 40% due to the pandemic, representing about $600 million in lost tax revenue.

Dubinski says Harry Potter will play a part in the region’s post-pandemic recovery.

“We have to tell people: Philadelphia is open for business. We need to get people back spending dollars in the city, and this exhibition is going to help do that,” said Dubinski. “We’re the most visited museum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, so we’ve always been an economic driver, as well as our primary mission which is to inspire a passion for science and technology.”

Franklin Institute President Larry Dubinski welcomes the first visitors to the preview of ”Harry Potter™: The Exhibition” in Philadelphia on Feb. 17, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“I’ll be really clear: this exhibition is about fun, it’s about curiosity,” he said. “For visitors, we want them to know they’re going to come there and have a great time.”

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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