Orlando Public Library’s Potterversary was the best-produced Potter-themed event not at Universal

Potterversary at Orlando Public Library
Potterversary at Orlando Public Library Photo by Seth Kubersky

People born on the day the first Harry Potter novel was published are now officially old enough to drink alcohol.

If that temporal tidbit doesn't send a Dementor-style shiver of mortality up your spine, you might be one of those millions of Muggle millennials who grew up with J.K. Rowling's magical fantasy and are now introducing it to their own children. Over the past 21 years, the book series has spawned a nearly $9 billion film franchise, endless merchandise and multiple theme-park attractions; there's even a symphonic concert series that performed John Williams' Prisoner of Azkaban score at the Dr. Phillips Center last weekend.

But it all goes back to the books. That is why I spent last Saturday afternoon celebrating the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at the downtown Orlando Public Library, which observed its second annual Potterversary by transforming into a veritable wizarding world.

Having missed 2017's inaugural Potterversary, I went into this year's event expecting a well-intentioned but perhaps amateurish attempt at approximating Rowling's realm. Instead, I was blown away by how much care and effort the library staff put into the magical makeover, starting with the Marauder's Map-inspired guide I was handed by a sweater-clad Hogwarts student upon entering the lobby.

Between the wand-wielding young wizards waiting for a photo op with Dobby the house-elf and the adults lined up for a selfie inside the Weasleys' flying Ford Anglia, you would have been forgiven for mistaking the library's ground floor for a Potter fan convention – and climbing the snake-entwined staircase past a portrait of Professor Dumbledore did little to dispel the impression.

Craft tables allowed kids to create Mandrakes and enchanted quills out of pipe cleaners and pencils; "floating candles" made from electric tealights and cardboard tubes dangled from the ceiling; and free samples of butterbeer (cream soda with whipped topping and butterscotch syrup) were served. Even without a theme park-sized budget, the library did a laudable job decking out all four floors for the Potter party, investing in some impressive large-format printing to portray the storefronts of Diagon Alley.

But beyond the surface details, this Potterversary's purpose was more than skin-deep, with the Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation and Creativity on the second floor serving as the interactive heart of the event. The fact that downtown Orlando has a state-of-the-art multimedia production center available for any citizen to use is almost as incredible as anything in Rowling's tales, and last Saturday's event was surely the first time many in attendance had experienced the facility's offerings.

Accordingly, Melrose Center instructors went out of their way to make their bleeding-edge toys accessible to Potterversary attendees. For example, Juan Rivera created a virtual reality wand combat simulator that had attendees queuing up to an hour for the chance to don an Oculus Rift headset and sling spells at Death Eaters.

"We made this game here for this event," said Rivera, adding that it took him "probably about two months [to program] and make the 3D models."

Similarly, Ryan Mulcahy demonstrated a sophisticated video projection mapping system that transformed the hallway into a gallery of living portraits, as well as a Hogwarts house points counter that guests could control with a custom-built console. Elsewhere, there were long lines for the chance to wear an "invisibility cloak" on a green-screen stage or mess with movie sound clips in an audio booth, with each attraction providing Potterphiles another painless intro to the Center's potential.

The Orlando Public Library's second Potterversary was perhaps the best-produced Potter-themed event I've experienced outside of Universal property, which makes me fearful that there may not be a third edition if Warner Brothers' recent penchant for sending cease-and-desist warnings to unlicensed fan festivals persists. We can only pray that Rowling's trademark-guarding trolls will remember the important role libraries played in promoting her books before they became best-sellers, and pay it forward by overlooking any infringement in light of the greater good.

Finally, speaking of Universal, there's more Wizarding World on the way to Orlando. Universal Studios Florida's new nighttime lagoon show, which will be the park's first to feature a Harry Potter-focused segment, should debut any day now. And the replacement for Islands of Adventure's Dragon Challenge roller coaster is shaping up nicely; the Intamin-built indoor-outdoor family coaster is scheduled to open next year. (For spoilers on the ride's surprises, search YouTube for Alicia Stella's track layout analysis.) So raise a glass of firewhisky to the Boy Who Lived for turning 21 – we won't see Broadway's Cursed Child here anytime soon; speeding through the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid will have to do.

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