Potter After Hours

potter after hours at the franklin instituteKatie is once again off on wild adventures. Remember that time she spent a year in Europe? Or how about when she dropped by Antiques Roadshow? This time, Katie journeyed to the Franklin Institute for a veeeeeery special Harry Potter event. Take it away, Katie!


It’s universally understood the Harry Potter series has captured the hearts of children, but adults are just as passionate about Harry and his adventures at Hogwarts. I count myself as one of those adults who is a Harry Potter fanatic, so naturally I leapt at the opportunity to attend Wizard School, an after-hours adult only program held at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

katie at the franklin insitute science after hoursThe Franklin Institute is one of the oldest museums in the United States dedicated to science education and research, and it is absolutely one of my favorite places to take my son when we have a free day. Named after Benjamin Franklin, the Franklin Institute has four floors of amazing science exhibitions, a planetarium, IMAX theatre, and even a telescope observatory on the roof.

Science After Hours is a series of events the Franklin Institute holds for adults 21+ and is designed around a specific theme, like Wizard School, with demonstrations, live speakers, music and dancing, activities, a chance to explore the entire museum at night, and…a cash bar.

As soon as I arrived, I snagged a cup of Butter Beer and started wandering through the museum to various activity tables. Wizard’s Chess anyone?

wizarding chess at the franklin instituteIn the Giant Heart exhibit, I tested to see if I was a pure blood by pouring a glass of clear liquid into a second glass of clear liquid. If the mixture turned red, you were a pure blood. If it didn’t, you were a Muggle. The magic is a pH indicator, phenolphthalein, being mixed with water and reacting to sodium carbonate, which is present in the second glass. The sodium carbonate and phenolphthalein react and turn the liquid red. If one glass didn’t have the chemical, the liquid remained clear. My glass turned red – I’m a pure blood witch!

pure blood testing at the franklin instituteI made my way past a very long line of people waiting to make a magical amulet so I could watch part of the Raptores Maximus show. Mike Dupuy, a local falconer and educator, introduced several of his birds of prey. Including Mr. Big Owl, a Eurasian owl who had the most stunning orange eyes.

mike dupuy with mr. big owl franklin instituteNext, I journeyed on to Pepper Hall, where I was greeted by 2 very long lines: 1) Make your own wand; and 2) Visit the Slimy Serpent, Critter, and Creature Magic Supply Shoppe. The Supply Shoppe was a tremendous display of potions ingredients and various critters you may discover as a student at Hogwarts, including snakes, spiders, frogs and even a jar of leeches. But I opted for wand making because I was curious to see how the Franklin Institute would handle a wand craft for well over a thousand people after our experience with our much smaller Wand Works event.

The wand craft was impressively simple, but quite impactful. As you approached the front of the line, you selected a colored light bulb with wire legs (identical to the bulbs we tested in the Circuit Clay kit). You moved forward and were given a small button cell battery and a paper straw that had been cut on one end to provide a slit for the battery to rest. Volunteers demonstrated how to slide the two legs of the bulb onto each side of the battery, illuminating the bulb, and then gave you two pieces of tape to secure the bulb onto the battery and secure the battery into the slit at the top of your straw.

The final step was a wood clothespin, which is where you insert the paper straw. The clothespin is wrapped with more tape to keep the straw from falling out and becomes the handle of the wand. After the wand is complete, there were tables with markers, star stickers and tiny jewels to bedazzle your wand. No two wands were alike!

wand making at the franklin instituteI tried to attend a presentation called The Absolutely True Fake Story of the Philosopher’s Stone. I should have used an Apparition spell to get me to the theater faster because the seats were full by the time I arrived. Not deterred, I walked through Platform 3.14 to see the Hogwarts Express (cleverly disguised as a Baldwin 60000 locomotive engine, which is on permanent display in the Train Factory exhibit).

platform 3.14 at franklin instituteMany of the demonstration tables had student volunteers from nearby colleges, including Drexel University, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The students were enthusiastically full of scientific information – such as the possibility of real-life invisibility cloaks (i.e. lasers and thermal imaging cameras). They were ready to be peppered with questions from everyone. Including Voldemort.

voldemort at the franklin instituteThe OwlCapella group from Temple University was serenading those in the ticketing atrium who had paused to rest their feet or have a snack, and I got a good laugh when I noticed Harry Potter conducting, unbeknownst to the choir. Total Potterbomb.

owlcappella at franklin instituteThe grand finale was held in the Franklin Memorial Hall, in front of a giant statue of Benjamin Franklin. Everyone was asked to raise their newly made wands and chant the Incendio spell. The result was a mighty green fireball explosion, courtesy of about a dozen large balloons filled with hydrogen. Very cool.


And just in case you’re wondering, Dr. Dana has ignited giant fireballs in the name of wizardry as well. You’ll find that here.

Wizard School was so popular, the Franklin Institute added a second date at the end of November! Dr. Dana and I are eagerly awaiting the Science After Hours schedule for 2019 with hopes there will be another literary related evening for us to enjoy. Stay tuned!

Wrist Owls

wrist owlsCats might make you sneeze and toads are rather old-fashioned. What you really need…is an owl! This project (which is derived from these wrist parakeets) is designed to be simple, inexpensive, and a snap to assemble at large-scale events with minimal staffing. The owls were a huge hit at a Harry Potter event we did in 2007, and again in 2017 at Wand Works.

You’ll need:

  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • Construction paper
  • A selection of small feathers
  • 1 pair of dot stickers (optional)
  • 1 small triangle of self-adhesive foam or construction paper
  • 1 pipe cleaner
  • Scissors, tape, and hole punch for construction
  • Brown or black markers

The color of your construction paper and feathers varies depending on the color of your owl. At our event, we offered both brown and white options.

Wrap a toilet paper tube with construction paper, then use tape (or glue) to attach feather wings and ear tufts. Use a marker to draw the owl’s eyes – or – use dot stickers for an extra pop of color. We added details to our sticker eyes with a Sharpie ultra fine point markers. Attach a small triangle of self-adhesive foam for the beak (or just use a snippet of orange or yellow construction paper).

The earlier incarnation of this owl project used different shades of brown construction paper for the owl’s head and its stomach:

alternative owlBut we simplified things further and just used markers to draw outlines of feathers on the owl’s chest. Finish by punching 2 holes on the bottom of the tube. Thread a pipe cleaner through the holes, then fasten the owl to your wrist. You’re ready for Hogwarts!

off to hogwarts

Mandrake Made Easy

mandrake made easy

Behold! An easy – but totally awesome – mandrake that even the littlest wizard or witch can repot. Katie and I created this project while planning a Harry Potter event. We were looking for something creative, simple, low mess, and appropriate for a wide age range. Ultimately, we decided to not do this mandrake craft at our event, but we definitely wanted to share it with you!

You’ll need:

  • Crayola Model Magic (we used the color terra cotta)
  • 1 small plastic cup (we used 1.25oz Solo cups)
  • Green construction paper
  • Clay sculpting tools (chopstick, paperclip, X-acto knife, pencil, etc.)
  • Scissors

Since this craft was going to take place in our carpeted gallery, we wanted zero mess. Model Magic is perfect for this purpose. It’s light, soft, spongy, non toxic, leaves no residue on the hands, and air dries beautifully. A 4oz package made 4 mandrakes.

First, take a chunk of Model Magic and form a root plug at the bottom, 2 arms, and a head. Gently twist the arms and head to make them appear gnarled and root-like.

twisting the arms and headUse sculpting tools and smaller bits of Model Magic to create the face. Then push the mandrake’s plug into a small clear plastic cup. Cut leaves from green construction paper, and gently pinch the Model Magic around the leaves to hold them in place. I love the expression and leaf placement on Katie’s mandrake:

mandrake with leavesYou can add a label to your pot if you’d like. Ours was a bit of manila paper adhered to the plastic cup with a glue stick. We went with the plant’s Latin genus name, Mandragora.

Also optional for this project: a pair earmuffs, charmed with extra soundproofing.