Potter Fans Hunt For Treasures At Harvard Museum

By Jared Bowen

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Visitors to the Harvard Museum of Natural History are presented with a Marauder’s Map, seen above.
Photo by Celena C. Tyler, Harvard Crimson


CAMBRIDGE -- Even if you are a muggle who’s never heard of a horcrux or a diagon alley wand, there is still a good chance you know something about the sign of the deathly hallows.That’s because at the stroke of midnight on Friday, Nov 19, thousands of theaters across the country will be packed to the gills for the premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; the first installment of the series’ much-anticipated two-part finale. 
 
Across the river in Cambridge, at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History, volunteer coordinator Carol Carlson is opening the door to an entirely different kind of Potter experience.

Carol explains, “The exhibit director Jan Sacco and I are both Harry Potter fans, along with our kids. When we knew the next movie was coming out, we got together and thought it would be a really great idea to connect the science of the Natural History Museum to some of these wonderful characters.”
 
And connect it they did. Harvard’s Museum of Natural History is offering Harry Potter fans a chance to take a magical quest of their own at the museum’s very own Harry Potter Scavenger Hunt.
 
“We laid it out so that you start in one gallery, and each of the stops is in a different gallery. People walk through the entire museum,” says Carol.
 
Armed with nothing more than a map, a set of questions, and a love of all things Potter, visitors set out to discover how the fantastical world of J.K. Rowling comes to life in the natural world. 
 
The questions start out pretty easy, for example: “What is Harry’s companion animal?” For anyone who has every seen, read, or glanced at a poster of Harry Potter, they probably know that the boy’s beloved Hedwig is a Snowy Owl. So, explains Carol, “You would go look in the owl collection up in the balcony, the bird balcony, for something that looked like Hedwig.”

Replica of a Snowy Owl, found at
Havard's Natural History Museum
(photo credit: Harvard)

As the trail leads you into the Indo-Asia hall, the questions get increasingly more difficult.  Lay your eyes on the Museum’s giant python, renamed Nagini after another of the series companion animals, and you are asked: “What are some of the other horcruxes?”
 
In Potter lore, a horcrux is an object a dark wizard or witch uses to hide a fragment of his or her soul for the purpose of attaining immortality.Two of the horcruxes are made of precious metals. “So what precious metal were they made from?” ask Carol. “Go into the minerals hall and find out. I won’t tell you what it is.”
 
As you work your way through each hall, and the increasingly difficult questions, you begin to appreciate the massive amount of natural world research Rowling must have done to create her own fantastical one.
 
“For example,” says Carol, “We’re looking at wands and the different woods that wands were made of. Voldomort’s wand is made of yew. Yew comes from plants that are traditionally planted in graveyards. Although it’s an evergreen, it’s associated with death, and it’s very toxic.” For those who don’t know, Voldomort’s the bad guy ­– think Darth Vader meets Dracula without a nose. He’s come back from the dead.

 
Harvard's collection of glass flowers (photo credit:
Harvard University)

Then there’s our hero’s wand. “Harry’s wand is made of holly, and when you think about holly, it’s also evergreen, but it’s associated with Christmas and everlasting life. I think it’s wonderful that this is Harry’s.”
 
Carol shows just how truly wonderful holly can be as her hunt leads into the Museum’s astounding Glass Flowers gallery. “When people first come in the first question is, where are the glass flowers,” says Carol. “The second question is, but where are the glass flowers?”
 
To be fair, the gallery does hold more than 3,000 hand-crafted models, but they’re still easy to miss. This is mostly because they look so astoundingly real. As you gaze upon these unbelievable replicas of some of nature’s most beautiful flowers, you can’t help but be filled with wonder. How did artists Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolph, do it? It seems, almost magical.
 
“They’re scientifically as accurate as can be,” says Carol.
 
Which may be why it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from the life-like red leaves. The leaves that Rudolph spent ten years perfectly coloring without cracking the glass.
 
“Here we have Harry’s wand,” explains Carol. “This is a model of American holly, and his is probably English holly, but it’s close enough. Again, everything is glass, including the microscopic slices.  So the Blaschkas had a microscope and they were able to take a live specimen of the plant. They drew it, and then they created it out of glass…to me that’s magic, too.”
 
The Magic of Harry Potter remains on display at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History until November 28th. WGBH members receive $1 off regularly priced adult admission, limit two per MemberCard.
 


Hear the Moviola team's review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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