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Ithaca Week

Potter Culture: “The Boy Who Lived” never dies

Press Bay Alley and the surrounding area in downtown Ithaca transformed into Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley for a Halloween celebration. (Credit: Faith Maciolek/Ithaca Week)
By Emily Fedor and Faith Maciolek

One evening in London, Albus Dumbledore mystically extinguished seven lights on a quiet street. He strolled up to the door of 4 Privet Drive, home of the Dursley family, and left a baby boy on the cold doorstep.

“This boy will be famousa legend,” said Minerva McGonagall. “Every child in our world will know his name.”


Harry Potter has become a household name since the release of his first tale over a decade ago and has entranced the lives of many and welcomed them into his spellbinding world.

Rachel Balzano was one of many who was quickly enamored with the series. After watching the first film, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” her mother began to read the books to her and her sister.

As a sophomore English major at Ithaca College, Balzano has read her fair share of literary works, and credits Hermione Granger for her driven focus on her schoolwork. But she admits no book has had the same effect on her life that the Harry Potter series has.

“There are so many depths and layers where it originally just seems to be this children’s story about this boy who has magic powers, but it’s so much more than that and can really help people of all ages.”

Katharine Kittredge, a professor in the department of English at Ithaca College, credits the massive reach the series has had in part to the marketing strategy of intertwining the release of the films with the release of the books. But she believes the level of artistry J.K. Rowling displays in creating the series’ detailed literary world is a major contributor to the franchise’s success.

“I think a big part of the appeal of Harry Potter is what’s often called “world-building,” said Kittredge. “It does a great job in creating a very appealing alternate reality and doing it in a way that is really rich and textured. It becomes both a great reading experience and also a community that you can join.”

The impressive numbers of the Harry Potter community were recently displayed during a local Halloween event called “Wizarding Weekend.”

Local businesses in downtown Ithaca helped turn Press Bay Alley and the surrounding area into the iconic Diagon Alley.

Darlynne Overbaugh, owner of Life’s So Sweet Chocolates, helped arrange the event. She said that although the business owners originally expected around 300 people to take part in the event, they were delightfully surprised when their Facebook event tally reached over 8,000.

“We simply tried to pay homage to an amazing genre,” said Overbaugh. “The things that made this event so amazing were the people who came. They brought to life their imaginations. We just helped facilitate that.”

Balzano was one of the many attendees who “nerded out” in wizard attire at the event. She said she enjoyed being able to revel in being a Potterhead and be accepted.

Kittredge said that events like Wizarding Weekend offer members of the culture a “rallying point” and a way to interact with each other.

“I think that when people who have a background in Harry Potter meet each other there’s a kind of a sense of relief that something that is dear to me is also dear to you so we may be able to connect.”

When Balzano started her college career, she wanted to seek out peers who also shared her love for Harry Potter. Her plan was to join a club called the Harry Potter Alliance, but to her dismay, the club had disbanded.

“I came in freshman year and was like, ‘I was promised a Yule Ball, where is it?’”

Since then Balzano has re-established the Ithaca College branch of the Harry Potter Alliance and has become the club’s president.

“[Harry Potter] just always found a way to be incorporated into social life,” Balzano said, “and I don’t think I’d want it any other way.”

“I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for these books. [They] have just completely changed my life.”


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