Let me just preface this article by saying I know next to nothing about Harry Potter, so I apologize ahead of time if I seem ignorant in the ways of wizardry and magic. 😉
While I won’t post the entire story I’ve heard to be true of how this event came to be, I will give you the abridged version: Some people got together and started discussing possibly doing a Harry Potter themed event, because Press Bay Alley in Ithaca made them think of Diagon Alley in HP. Halloween fell on a Saturday this year, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do a little event for the people of Ithaca and their kids. They made things happen, and then a local reporter from the newspaper wrote up an article about it – with more excitement than event-covering-articles usually have. Things started moving much quicker after that. The event was steadily gaining over 500 new RSVP’s a day and it was starting to move into the thousands – after the original projected number of attendees was to be 200. Then the explosion happened. Seventeen Magazine, MTV News, and Bustle got word of the event, meaning it was now on the national radar for a cool but geeky event going on for Halloween in the rural area of our upstate New York. The event ended up having an estimated 8,000-15,000 attendees, and the creators are already gearing up for next year.
So believe it or not, that was actually a very abridged version of the story of how Wizarding Weekend was created in literally just a few short weeks before Halloween.
Now, let’s get to the actual event itself, and see how it did with such a massive amount of people that weren’t originally expected.
When we walked up to the alley where most of the action was happening, it was packed. There were people everywhere and it was quite a crazy and energy-filled scene. There was a hot-brew stand, which sold hot apple cider and was decorated to fit the theme. There were three food trucks beside it – I’d never seen either of them before but they looked really cool; one was all plant-based foods, one had cool things like fancy mac & cheeses and different meats, and the last one was crepes, which sounded so delicious.
There were lots of tents throughout the alley/parking lot. There was a picture booth tent, tents selling little knick-nacks, face painting, and muggle arts and crafts. I didn’t experience it myself because I’m too old, but for kids that hadn’t yet been introduced to Harry Potter, there was an “Intro to Hogwarts” where kids could learn about the HP universe. That would have been helpful for me, I’m sure! There was a costume contest – which I didn’t watch, but I’m sure it was entertaining. I saw probably hundreds of people in costume – dressed up as everything from Hogwarts students, to Harry himself, to a broom, to the prisoner of Azkaban..in his cell! There was a fortune-teller on hand as well, which was fun for everyone. Katie O’Connor Ballantyne played Professor Trelawney, and told me about her duties:
“It was super-fun being in costume and interacting with attendees. While there was an actual tarot reader on site, I stuck to mostly remaining in character and making predictions either directly related to plot elements from the book, or about hosts of small ghouls and demons at doorsteps demanding treasure (i.e. trick-or-treaters).”
One thing I thought was neat and fitting was that BloodMoon Adornments was also on hand – a jewelry store that makes steampunk and wizard type of jewelry normally anyway, so their pieces fit in perfectly with the festival’s theme. There was also a tent selling brooms – the type made out of straw and wood, which was so fitting – and they were really pretty!
Gringotts Bank was also on hand, which was represented by Ithacash. They were accepting donations to support the festival, and were also on hand to tell people about Ithacash. It’s a really neat local currency that small businesses can participate in, and keep your eyes peeled because I plan on doing an article about that in the near future! I caught up with the creator of Ithacash, Scott Morris, and asked him a little bit about his new currency and how the festival went from his point of view.
Me: How did Ithacash play a role in Wizarding Weekend?
SM: We were Gringotts bank. We “opened vaults” and introduced people to “magic money.” We also had a wheel of treasures where people won gold chocolate coins, gift certificates, and Ithaca dollars.
Me: How does Ithacash work? Is it just for Ithaca?
SM: Yes and no, while it’s called Ithacash and Ithaca dollars, it can be used anywhere within an hours’ drive of Ithaca.
Me: Just local, small businesses?
SM: Those that have joined on. But individuals can join, buy the currency at a favorable rate, and save money when they shop local.
Me: Such a neat idea to boost local businesses – thank you!
To me, it’s so neat that Ithacash was able to get involved in Wizarding Weekend, and it fit in perfectly that they were able to act as Gringott’s Bank. Rumor has it they also gave out chocolate coins – and a lot of them at that!
The last aspect of this festival that I’m going to touch on is the big sporting event – Quiddich! Or in regular normal people world, Cargo Bike Quiddich! Kids from 3 high schools in Ithaca and one homeschooler team joined in the fun to play Quiddich matches – with a huge crowd to cheer them on. I’m not exactly sure how Quiddich is played, but to me it looked like sort of a water polo, lacrosse-type of game, but on bikes (or in HP’s world, on brooms.) There were brooms fastened to the bikes, so for muggles, I’d say they did pretty well!
This event was a huge hit – much bigger than anyone anticipated, and I’m really happy for the organizers and Ithaca that it turned out so well. Next year is gonna be even bigger and better, I’m sure. Katie said “It appeared to me that all the attendees were having fun and were caught up in the spirit of fandom.” and attendee @punkrockiswear from Twitter said “It was awesome…my favorite part was the fact that so many people came together with a mutual love for the series.”
So there you have it, folks! My report of the very first Wizarding Weekend in Ithaca!