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The Exhibition: H.P. at the Museum of Science and Industry

Your trusty Pensieve reporter visited Harry Potter: The Exhibition on May 1, 2009, just a day after it opened. If you are a Harry Potter fan and have seen any of the movies, you’ll love this exhibition. Harry Potter: The Exhibition is a traveling tour that features costumes, props and stage settings from the first six Harry Potter movies.
The amount (over 200 items) and range of costumes and props that have been squeezed into this traveling exhibit remind one of how much Hermione was able to squeeze into her beaded handbag. The exhibit will set you back more than a few galleons, but you’ll be glad you came.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois is the first venue for this traveling exhibit, and according to news reports, Harry Potter: The Exhibition will only visit a few places in North America. The exhibit will be there from April 30 – September 27, 2009. The next site for the exhibition has yet to be determined.

There is one part of Harry Potter: The Exhibition that you can see without a ticket: the Flying Ford Anglia sits in the museum’s entry hall. Be sure to have a friend snap your photo next to it (this is the only part of the exhibit you can photograph).

Expenses: Tickets, parking and other amenities

You can purchase tickets to Harry Potter: The Exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in the main entry hall ticketing area. I recommend, however, that you purchase your tickets ahead of time on the Museum of Science and Industry’s website (msichicago.org); you won’t want to get to the museum and find that you can’t get into the exhibit that day. The Harry Potter exhibit requires a special ticket IN ADDITION TO the price of admission to the museum itself (combination tickets are $26 for adults, $25 for seniors and $19 for children ages 3-11, BUT on Museum Free Days [June 1-5, June 19] prices for these daytime combination tickets will not include charges for general admission). Entry to the Harry Potter exhibit is strictly controlled with timed-entry tickets (your ticket will tell you what time you can enter, to avoid crowd congestion). After purchasing your ticket online, you can print it out to bring with you.

If you have never been to the Museum of Science and Industry before, it is well worth a visit as well (I especially recommend the U-505 German WW II submarine, the Omni-Max theater, and the Henry Crown Space Center, but there are many interactive exhibits for young children as well). The MSI is a famous Chicago institution, with everyone I meet having fond memories of visiting it as a child. If you are doing both the HP exhibit and the Museum, I’d give yourself the majority of the day.

If you are quite familiar with the MSI and don’t feel compelled to visit it again so soon, then you can save significant money by booking your Harry Potter exhibition tickets in the evening hours after the Museum has closed (5:00 – 8:00 pm entry times during the summer; after Sept. 7, 3:30 – 8:00); this way you only pay for the Harry Potter exhibit ($18.00 for adults, $15.00 for children 3-11, plus a $1.80 “convenience fee” if you purchase it online), without the museum admission fee. The exhibition is open until 9:00 pm.

If you are bringing a large family and you want to see both the Harry Potter Exhibition and the Museum, you may want to consider purchasing a family MSI membership to get free museum admission (including up to 6 admissions to the Harry Potter exhibit, depending on membership level), free Omni-Max tickets, free coat check, and a break on the price of parking, the museum stores (including the Harry Potter store) and food (see http://www.msichicago.org/membership/membership-degrees/ for more information. You can purchase museum memberships online, over the phone (773-684-1414) or in-person at the membership desk in the entry hall.

The Museum says that most people can go through the exhibit in 45 minutes. However, if you are an ardent HP fan, give yourself considerable more time than that! My friend and I were there for 2.5 hours, and could have easily stayed for another hour had we not had an appointment to get to.

If you are driving to the museum, you can park in the underground museum parking garage for $16.00 (the price is the same no matter how long you stay). You may also try to find on-street parking nearby, but if it is raining it is definitely worth parking underground since you can enter the museum directly without going outside. You can also easily get to the museum by CTA bus, CTA train, Metra train or bike: http://www.msichicago.org/visit-the-museum/museum-info/getting-here/


Harry Potter: The Exhibition does rent an audio tour device that you can carry with you through the exhibit ($5.00, or $4.00 for members), available in English and Spanish (rent from a kiosk near where you line up to enter the exhibition). However, unlike most audio tours I have used, there are no headphones provided in this case, so you have to hold the device up to you ear to hear it. So, if you are juggling children, trying to take notes, or carrying anything, it is very difficult to use the audio tour (However you can plug your own headset into the player.) I tried it, and to be honest I found it not worth the effort much of the time. The content was a mixed bag; much of the commentary was “blindingly obvious” to any Harry Potter fan, but occasionally there was an interesting tidbit having to do with the production of the movies. So, true fans with free hands will probably want to try it out, as well as those who don’t know much about Harry Potter to begin with but are just coming along with a fan.

Stroller and wheelchair rentals are available at the museum (wheelchairs can enter the exhibition, but strollers must be parked at the entrance). There is a Harry Potter store at the end of the exhibit, which you can only enter from the exhibit with a timed-entry ticket. Once you leave the store, you cannot re-enter (seems kind of silly – you would think they would want to sell as much merchandise as possible). Most of the items for sale are at retail price and very expensive (a large proportion are over $100). There are some less expensive items like t-shirts (not a great selection), bookmarks, post cards and refrigerator magnets (nice selection), but don’t expect any bargains.

Entering Harry Potter: The Exhibition

The museum recommends that you be in line to enter the exhibit at least 5 minutes before the entry time marked on your ticket. I found that the entry area can get crowded, and if you want to be in front to see the Sorting, you should arrive at least 10 minutes early. Your timed-entry ticket will be scanned as you enter the exhibit.

Most of the staff associated with Harry Potter: The Exhibition were hired just for this exhibit, and have native British accents; I found them to be very helpful and personable, and also able to answer a wide variety of questions about the exhibit and its contents.

There is a long list of Rules for the exhibit posted at the entrance. I am told that if you break the rules, you will be promptly escorted from the exhibit. My friend had a small bottle of water with her, and she was warned twice by security not to drink it in the exhibit.

You enter the exhibit from inside the museum, but the exhibit itself is housed in large white tents on the front lawn of the museum. Covered walkways connect the museum and the tents. I know this sounds weird, but once you are inside the 10,000 square-foot exhibit space, you would never know you were in a tent. The ventilation, heating and cooling seems to be very good, and the walls and ceilings are hidden or disguised in such a way that you immediately feel immersed in the world of Harry Potter, and you don’t notice much else.

A walk-through and highlights of the exhibits

There is one part of Harry Potter: The Exhibition that you can see without a ticket: the Flying Ford Anglia sits in the museum’s entry hall. Be sure to have a friend snap your photo next to it (this is the only part of the exhibit you can photograph).

Harry Potter: The Exhibition is set up in a series of “settings” focused on various activities or paces at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The first area that you enter is the Sorting. In this room all of the guests entering at a given time crowd around a stool on which rests the Sorting Hat (not the actual one used in the movies, however). An exhibit staff member in costume asks for volunteers to be Sorted. If you are lucky enough to be chosen, you will be asked what your favorite House is (and you will usually be Sorted into that house). Those in my group who didn’t have a choice or said “Not Slytherin” were placed in Hufflepuff. The voice of the Sorting Hat from the movies will issue a quote from the movie as it Sorts you into your House (“Brave at heart, daring, better be…Gryffindor!). After a few people are Sorted, everyone passes together through a door to the next room.

Setting 2 is the Pre-show montage of videos from the movies on 8 screens. The montage is very good, but I was a little disappointed in the size of the screens (they each seemed to be about 2 feet wide by 6 feet tall). The montage only lasts a few minutes. At the end, a doorway opens on your left revealing a full-sized mock-up of the Hogwarts Express sitting alongside what looks like a train platform. As you walk along the platform and into the next room, a staff member in costume waves a lantern much like Hagrid would do. Don’t miss the wanted poster of Sirius Black….

Starting with Setting 3 you are in the exhibit proper, and now you are on you r own to explore at your leisure. Artifacts that were actually used in the Harry Potter movies are labeled with placards telling what the item is, which character used it, and in some cases in which movie and in which scene it appeared. There are some things here from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, too!

You’ll pass through a short entry hall lined with portraits (some of the inhabitants can move), including those of the Fat Lady, Professor Quintin Trimble, Percival Pratt, Newt Scamander, and Mr. Sedley Smirkpaltter.

You are then immediately immersed in the Gryffindor common room (or a partial facsimile thereof). This is the densest, most artifact-laden part of the exhibit, with costumes, school trunks and belongings from all of the major characters. Hermione’s, Neville’s and Ginny’s things are on your left as you enter, and Ron and Harry have an area to your right (including beds, night stands, etc.).

Some original artifacts found here include Harry’s glasses, Harry’s first letter from Hogwarts, Ron’s Howler, Hermione’s Time Turner, the photo album that Hagrid gave to Harry, the Marauder’s Map. Neville’s dress shoes, Herbology kit and Mimbulus mimbletonia, the Gryffindor common room notice board, the box of chocolates that Romilda Vane gave to Harry, robes and school uniforms (Ron’s sweater has holes and quite a bit of wear), the list of DA members, school books (in addition to Flying with the Cannons, Do Ii Yourself Broomcare, and Quidditch Teams of England and Ireland) and wands (Harry’s, Hermione’s, Ron’s broken one, and others). There are a lot of wands exhibited throughout the exhibition, so keep your eyes peeled for them! The Tri-Wizard Tournament golden egg is sitting on a table in Harry’s area, and it was interesting to see the intricate engraving of castles on it’s surface.

Many of the smaller original artifacts are housed in glass cases, but there has been an effort made to place them in context and create settings that give the feel of being in the scenes. Harry and Ron’s part of the common room is set up like the boy’s dormitory with beds, dressers, lamps, etc., and there are lots of other interesting items sitting around as well (pumpkin juice bottles, wizard money, copies of The Daily Prophet, The Quibbler, Seeker Weekly magazines and The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle comic books, for example). Sometimes even the most mundane items have interesting histories (there is a fascinating note in the audio tour about how the set designers found the material to use for the hangings around the beds, for example).

We spent the most time in this area, as there was so much to see and pore over. There are no doors in the rest of the exhibit until you get to the Great Hall, so you’ll gradually transition from one setting to the next.

In Setting 4 you’ll see a bit of the classrooms at Hogwarts along with some of the costumes worn by the teachers. On the right you’ll see the Potions area, which includes one of Snape’s original costumes (all in black, but the cape looks a bit greenish in real life), his wand (also black), Slughorn’s robes and wand, some books (Borage’s Advanced Potion Making, Edition IV and Magical Drafts and Potions), a box of bezoars, some cast iron cauldrons, various chemistry glassware and vials filled with various glowing colored potions, and lots of large glass jugs and bottles containing mysterious potions ingredients (take time to read the labels… Weedosoros, Deadylius, Spleenwart, Haliwinkles, etc.).

In the Divination area you can see Trelawney’s original crystal ball, her wardrobe (all green, including her necklaces), her spectacles, two teacups with tea leaves inside (one with “the Grim”), a typical British brown teapot, a footstool, and a copy of Unfogging the Future.

Of course, Defense Against the Dark Arts is well-represented since there have been so many colorful characters teaching this course! Along with Professor Lupin’s shabby robes and shoes (they really are quite worn), you can see his wand, traveling case, Spell-o-Fonix records, the original wardrobe used in the lesson on boggarts (really quite tall – about 9 feet!), the giant Jack-in-the-Box from that same lesson, and The Dark Forces: a Guide to Self-Protection.

That all sounds rather spooky, but it’s nothing compared to the creepy feeling you get staring at Umbridge’s pink office, complete with china kitten plates on the wall. Her desk, neat as always, with a row of pens and a cup and saucer, seems oddly delicate. Even more chilling is the small writing desk where Harry sat to do his detentions, including the “rather special” black quill and the parchment that Harry wrote on. You can also see the hated text Dark Arts Defense for Beginners here.

There is also one of Professor Lockhart’s many costumes here – his dueling robes. These are fascinating to see close-up. His boots and gloves are suede, and although in the movie they looked mostly gray, they are actually a light shade of lavender. This is quite an elaborate work of costuming.

The last “classroom” is the Herbology greenhouse, where you can actually pull a Mandrake out of a pot and hear it scream (sorry, it doesn’t kill you or make you faint). Professor Sprout’s robes, including a pair of rubber Wellies, seems to exude the smell of fresh earth.

Setting 5 is all about Quidditch. There is another “hands-on” activity you can do in this area: you can toss a Quidditch Quaffle at some hoops and try to score points. The most fascinating this about this is actually being able to hold the Quaffle – it has a good solid feel to it. There is a large standing glass case in this area with Quidditch artifacts, including the case of balls that Wood used to show Harry how to play the game (with the golden snitch), two broomsticks (Draco’s Nimbus 2001 and Harry’s Nimbus 2000), and lots of things from the Quidditch World Cup: a pair of omniocculars, a green and white scarf, a red and black scarf, a 422nd World Cup program, Ireland hats, and some magazines. It was interesting to look at the broomsticks close-up; Draco’s “twigs” are actually made of clear plastic, while Harry’s are real twigs.

In the Quidditch area you can also see Madam Hooch’s robes (the formal ones she wore to dinner; navy blue with velvet trim), quite a few trophies (including the World Cup), and Quidditch robes worn by Viktor Krum in the 4th movie, by Harry and by Ron in the 6th movie, by Oliver Wood in the 2nd movie, by Cedric Diggory in the 3rd movie, and by Draco Malfoy in the 2nd movie (it seems as though the Seekers – Harry and Cedric - always get the number 7 on their backs).

Setting 6 is Hagrid’s hut. This is the area that is most like a full movie set. The entire octagonal hut is there, albeit with entryways cut out on two sides. Everything is to Hagrid’s scale (huge!). You can actually sit in Hagrid’s over-stuffed, leather-covered chair (I felt like a two-year-old in size), watch Norbert’s egg trying to hatch, and hear the cauldron boiling over the hearth. Hagrid’s clothes are there (they actually looked shabbier than Lupin’s to me), as well as various interesting items stashed around the perimeter of the room (Hagrid’s old Hogwarts school trunk, lots of wooden cages, candles on the walls). In a glass case you can see the actual faded-pink umbrella, lantern and two copies of the Monster Book of Monsters used in the movies. This is a great area to linger and soak up the atmosphere….oh, and don’t forget to check out Buckbeak, who is hanging around outside.

Setting 7 is the Forbidden Forest (sometimes called the Dark Forest in the movies). As you enter this area immediately after leaving Hagrid’s hut, you will notice that it is, indeed, darker. Here you can see all manner of magical creatures, including a unicorn, an Acromantula, two Centaurs (Bane (beige) and Magorian (dark purple)), a baby thestral and the front of a Hungarian horntail dragon (interestingly, it has two holes in its tongue – for breathing fire?).

Setting 8 represents the Dark forces. Here you can see a variety of artifacts and models of the challenges and enemies that Harry has had to face through the years. There are two giant chess pieces (the pawn and the knight, holding his sword aloft, about 9 ft tall), Quirrell’s robes and turban (no garlic smell, though), Tom Riddle’s robes from the 2nd movie (sort of a retro 1940’s gray woolen sweater and suit under robes, with the prefects badge), and the “Angel of Death” statue from the Riddle grave (but with no names on the tombstone). In a glass case you can see a flying key, Colin Creevey’s camera, and Tom Riddle’s stabbed diary. In this area they also have Harry’s casual wardrobe from the first movie – red sweater and tan corduroys – and they look so small!

As you move along past wanted posters for Alecto Carrow, Amycus Carrow, Fenrir Greyback, and Bellatrix Lestrange, you see more artifacts related to Voldemort and the Death Eaters. There are two sets of Death Eater robes and masks (from the graveyard scene in Goblet of Fire), the robes Voldemort wore when he was first in his new body (very thin, membranous and greenish-black), and Voldemort’s wand. You can also see Lucius and Draco Malfoy’s robes from the bookstore scene in Chamber of Secrets. Lucius’ costume has great detail, including green and red embroidery, an alligator-skin wand holster, fur hat and collar with silver clips, and his infamous walking stick. Watch out for the dementor swooping down from above (it has an interesting spine-like tail which I never noticed in the movies, and purplish-black robes). Just before you get to the next area you’ll see two Azkaban prisoner uniforms and a full-sized model of Kreacher.

Setting 9 is the Great Hall. This area is set off form the rest of the exhibit by great carved golden doors. On the outside of the wall are posted 17 of the many framed proclamations declared by Professor Umbridge and hung by Filch in the Order of the Phoenix. In a case at the end of the entry hall you’ll also see the Bloody Baron’s robes from the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Entering the Great Hall is quite an experience; this room is lighter and brighter than the dark, gloomy and menacing settings you have just left, and you almost feel the warmth of phoenix song as you enter (Fawkes is sitting on his stand on the far side of the room, looking a bit less ruffled than I seem to remember him from the movies).

Even though it’s much small that the actual Great Hall in the movies, they have done quite a nice job of decorating the set to give you the feel of Hogwarts, including elaborate hanging lamps with dragons on them, and stained glass here and there. Rather than four house tables, there is just one large table in the center which is laden with the actual gold-and-pewter utensils, goblets and plastic food used in the movies (also note the clear glass pitchers with pewter hog’s head tops). The hall is packed with interesting artifacts and costumes, though, so be sure to leave sufficient time for this last area!

On the left side of the room as you enter you can see the casket for the Goblet of Fire, Fleur Delacour’s robes from the Great Hall entrance scene (with very pointy-toed shoes), Viktor Krum’s robes from the same scene (dark red wool with brown fur trim and hat and a nice silver belt buckle) and many dress robes from the Yule Ball: Krum’s (again, red with fur), Hermione’s gown (pink with a tinge of lavender which I didn’t notice in the movie), Ron’s (including a green velvet bow tie), Cho Chang’s silvery gown with lots of detail embroidery and small pink flowers), Harry’s (black tuxedo-like robes with a white waffle-weave bow tie) and Cedric’s (robes similar to Harry’s but with shorter sleeves and a black satin bow tie).

In the far left corner you’ll see the Tri-Wizard Cup in a glass case, which to me somehow looked much larger in real life than it did in the movie. The cup itself appears to be made of quartz (with small imperfections and cracks), while the three metal handles are intricate dragons. In a nearby glass case you’ll find Rita Skeeter’s green quill and 5 of her alligator-skin covered notebooks in five colors (pale blue, aqua, pink, red and orange).

Along the far back wall are arrayed the costumes of the Hogwart’s leaders. Professor McGonagall is represented by the dark green robes she wore in Goblet of Fire. We see two sets of Dumbledore’s robes: one worn by Richard Harris at the End-of-year Feast in Chamber of Secrets, and one worn by Michael Gambon at the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire. See if you can spot a certain helpful house-elf hiding here somewhere….

The right side of the room appears to be dedicated to the more fun-filled and carefree aspects of Hogwarts. The costumes worn by Fred and George Weasley are here (from Order of the Phoenix), alongside a glass case filled with their Skiving Snackboxes and a wide variety of other treats and tricks from Honeydukes, Zonko’s and Banges & Dervish’s: a Quidditch board game, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Fizzing Whizbees, Tooth Splintering Strong Mints, Tongue Burners, Lick ’o Rish, Shock-o-Choc (“add some shock to your chocolate”), suckers, Chocolate Frogs (70% finest croakoa), Glacial Snow Flakes, Exploding Bon Bons, and Qizlbash cauldron cakes.

And as we come full-circle around the room we come face-to-face with the Ministry of Magic, the only truly dark note in this room. Here we have the costumes of Cornelius Fudge and Percy Weasley from Order of the Phoenix (both with the same pin-stripes). In a glass case you can see some examples of O.W.L. exams (with the questions arrayed in boxes randomly placed on the page), student progress reports, purple paper airplane memos, and study aids (“Cramit! O.W.L. Study Sheets: How to Soar on your O.W.L.s”).

By this point you’ll probably feel as though you’ve been through all six of Harry’s years at Hogwarts, movie-style, and you may not notice the 13 additional portraits hung on the walls as you leave the exhibition (three of which are animated). They include such luminaries as Iris Pivis and Professor Emeric Switch. From here you walk down a short hallway to the Harry Potter store (remember, you can only enter it from the Exhibition, with a ticket, and once you leave you CANNOT re-enter). Have fun shopping (although I’d rather be in Zonko’s!).

Ford Anglia Sign



As seen in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Displayed with permission from the Ford Motor Company

The Ford Anglia was enchanted by its owner, Arthur Weasley, to give it the ability to fly and become invisible. At the start of their second year, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley miss the Hogwarts Express and use the car to fly to Hogwarts. Just as they arrive at the school, the Anglia begins to break down and crashes into the flailing branches of the Whomping Willow. Later that year, the magical car heroically saves Harry and Ron from giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest.

Dumbledore's Army

The D.A. sign-up sheet used in the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie, as seen in Harry Potter: the Exhibition in Chicago, IL

In the Gryffindor Common room area of the exhibition, a glass case contains what we presume is the original D.A. list used in the movie. The signatures (each in a different handwriting) are written in pencil in two columns on a long sheet of paper. The list contains some names we don’t see in the books (see if you can recognize them). Here they are, in the order they appear on the list:

Hermione Granger
Ron Weasley
Harry Potter
George Weasley
Fred Weasley
Ginny Weasley
Luna Lovegood
Neville Longbottom
Padma Patil
Parvati Patil
Cho Chang
Zacharias Smith


Anthony Goldstein
Alice Tolipan
Luca Carruse
Marietta Edgecombe
Katie Bell
Hannah Abbott
Susan Bones
Ernie MacMillan
Dean Thomas
Michael Corner
Dennis Creevey
Terry Boot
Alicia Spinnet
Lee Jordan
Nigel Wespurt
Justin Finch-Fletchley

Harry Potter: The Exhibition Rule

• No photography or videography.

• No cell phone usage.

• No food or beverages.

• There are no restrooms inside Harry Potter: The Exhibition. Restrooms are located on every level of the museum.

• Strollers will be parked at the entrance to the exhibit.

• There is no re-entry to the Harry Potter exhibit or store after exiting the exhibit.

• The Harry Potter store is located at the end of Harry Potter: The Exhibition. This is the only museum store that sells Harry Potter merchandise and is only open to guests with a current timed-entry ticket to Harry Potter: The Exhibition.