Members of the Ithaca community dress up in their wizarding clothes and wait outside platform 9 3/4.

November 1, 2015

Ithaca Hosts First-Ever Wizarding Weekend

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On Saturday, thousands flooded the Commons and the streets of downtown Ithaca, wearing robes, wizard hats and other mystical garb in celebration of Wizarding Weekend — a family friendly, Harry Potter-themed convention.

Darlynne Overbaugh, the owner of Life’s So Sweet Chocolates, was the mastermind behind the event.

“It started out very simple, and the community made it become viral,” Overbaugh said. “We had about a week to put it together.”

She said that the idea to transform the collection of box shops off of Green Street in downtown Ithaca known as Press Bay Alley into Diagon Alley — the shopping center of the Harry Potter universe — came about on a whim.

“The story goes that there was a young man who works for Boxy Bikes, he and his brother were riding in a car, and he said, wouldn’t it be cool if Press Bay Alley became Diagon Alley?” she said.

Upon hearing this idea, Overbaugh said she decided she could help organize the event. She posted the first message to Facebook about Wizarding Weekend on Oct. 20, and it immediately garnered likes and recognition from the community.

“When you’re putting together an event of this size, there are a lot of logistics,” she said.

“The Ithaca community rallied behind the event — the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, the City of Ithaca, the property owners.”

After about a week of local fervor, the story was picked up by national news outlets, and the Facebook event had about 8,000 positive RSVPs.

The event featured a dozen different Harry Potter-inspired activities, including an Introduction to Wizardry tent, where a man led a guided rope-tying class. He taught attendees to tie an illusory pretzel knot which employed a technique that initially seemed to tie the attendees’ hands together. When they pulled the ends of the rope, a knot formed, and their hands were free.

Other tents offered activities and attractions including ‘Pin the Sock on the Dobby,’ and ‘Trivia of Escalating Difficulty.’ Additionally, tents were set up as the different Hogwarts house common rooms. ‘Volunteer Owls’ staffed the tents. People dressed as Hogwarts students, characters such as Umbridge and Hagrid and more than one Voldemort filled the streets to wait in lines for all the different activities.

Vickie Browse, a Volunteer Owl who was giving directions, said one of the motivations for creating the event was to give kids the chance to “play Quidditch on their electric bikes.” However, she said, the event soon became a promotional opportunity for businesses in Press Bay Alley.

There was, in fact, a Quidditch pitch set up in a parking lot, where kids played a non-flying version of the fictional game.

“We’re holding a unique event because we’re a unique community,” she said, acknowledging that other cities have had events like Wizarding Weekend.

An organ player played eerie music to set the mood as people walked around. Press Bay Alley merchants sold Quidditch shirts and Harry Potter-themed scented candles. The Finger Lakes Meat Project, a project that tries to provide affordable access to meat, held a Magical Creatures Exhibition that invited people to take pictures with “a rare American Graphorn.” Gringot’s Bank also offered people a “prosperity enchantment” of 25 percent on any bank account they opened with them.

The Sacred Root Kava Bar and Tea Lounge dubbed itself The Three Broomsticks — named after a pub frequented by characters in the Harry Potter world— for the day and served up Butterbeers and Witches’ Brews, drinks often enjoyed by characters in the novels. A bartender said that they opened early just for Wizarding Weekend.

Fans came from near and far to enjoy a recreation of the world they first experienced through J.K. Rowling’s writing, they said.

Christine Tang ’14 said she and two of her friends drove over from Syracuse after they heard the event would be hosted just down the road from their alma mater.