Philadelphia's Potterheads won't be sipping butterbeer or riding brooms this fall at Chestnut Hill's famous Harry Potter Festival. Organizers have canceled the October event, thanks to mounting legal pressure from Warner Bros. At its peak, the festival attracted 50,000 avid Harry Potter fans.
"We first heard from Warner Bros. in early May," Philip Dawson, Chestnut Hill's business district director, said. "We strategized about it and then informed the businesses who were members of the district, and then the public. I was surprised [by Warner Bros.] because it had always been a really positive event. A lot of people really enjoyed coming out and celebrating the book and the movies."
According to the Chestnut Hill Local, the Chestnut Hill business district lost $50,000 from the festival last year, largely in part because it had to pay the city for police to help with traffic. But compared with the chaos of the 2016 festival — which unexpectedly went viral when it brought more crowds to the neighborhood than it could handle — last year's festival was a resounding success. The board thought it had finally figured out a plan to continue holding the internationally recognized festival, where Potterheads have enjoyed hayrides through festival grounds, taken Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, and participated in Sorting Hat demonstrations. One of the most popular events at the festival was the annual Quidditch tournament at Chestnut Hill College, which regularly attracted teams from nearby colleges including the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and Villanova University.
When Warner Bros. sent festival organizers a cease-and-desist letter that said the festival couldn't use any names or images associated with Harry Potter, the organizers knew that they would no longer be able to hold the festival as they had previously. (This is not the first time Warner Bros. has cracked down on Harry Potter-themed festivals — the entertainment company has stopped similar festivals in Aurora, Ill., and Ithaca, N.Y.)
"Warner Bros. restrictions have changed somewhat every year, most dramatically this year," Dawson said. "I've asked them for a license to host this event, but they have no plans on issuing any right now. But as long as fans come out to Chestnut Hill, we will continue to celebrate with them."
The business district plans on holding a Wizards and Wands pub crawl this fall, but it will focus more on Halloween and align with Chestnut Hill College's Harry Potter Academic Conference in October.
A Warner Bros. representative declined to comment on the situation.
Emma Gibbs, a 20-year-old Potterhead from Allentown, said that she has been going to the Harry Potter Festival for the last few years because it's become a bit of a family tradition. Her aunt has been attending it since the very first Harry Potter Festival took place eight years ago.
"My whole family had started to come to this event and it really brought us together," Gibbs said. "When we saw the first Harry Potter movie, my cousins and I would play Harry Potter for hours on end; so it was really cool to be able to go to a place that brought all of our fantasies to life."
Dan Lemoine, a Germantown resident who dresses up as Harry Potter every year to take photos with fans, said he was also sad to hear that the festival was ending.
"It's unfortunate, but I understand how Warner Bros. feels," he said. "It hasn't been a perfect festival, but it's like the saying 'Better to have loved and lost.' It's better to have had the festival and lost it than to never have had it at all."
Gibbs said she was extra disappointed with the cancellation because she would have turned 21 in time for this year's festival pub crawl.
"It also makes me extremely disappointed in Warner Bros.," Gibbs said. "They make so much money, especially off this franchise, and it's so sad to see them put an end to something that not only helped small businesses and a college town, but also that brought families and friends together to be a part of something they loved."