“Harry Potter” Summons Huge Crowds as if by Magic

Travis Zimpfer

St. Louis (KMOX) – The lobby of Ronnie’s 20 Cine in South County overflowed with people in black cloaks carrying wooden wands, most of them just small branches freshly plucked from a tree. A girl in a head-to-toe snowy owl suit that took 10 solid hours of work to create chatted with her friends, Professor Trelawney, the divination teacher, and Voldemort’s right-hand woman, Bellatrix Lestrange. Those who were lucky enough to be at the front of the line for their auditorium caught up on sleep or read through J.K. Rowling’s anthology – yet again – since many of them had been waiting there for more than 18 hours. And there was something less tangible at the theater, too: a buzz of desperation, impatience and excitement with a hint of sadness and regret.

This was the final time fan(atic)s would be enchanted by “The Boy Who Lived.”

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” marked the last projected major media release of the Harry Potter franchise which has spawned seven novels (that have collectively sold more than 400 million copies in over 60 languages), a $6 billion film series, a theme park in Florida, a sports league dedicated to the once-fictional sport of quidditch, more merchandising than you can wave a wand at and, of course, legions of loyal and dedicated followers.

“I grew up with the story,” Erica Schutzenhofer said. “He [Harry] was eleven when I was eleven.”

Schutzenhofer, along with her sister, Becca, and their friend, Ashley Anderson, have all followed the series faithfully for the last decade, on the page and screen. And last night, they showed more allegiance and dedication to Harry Potter than anyone else at Ronnie’s; they were the first three people in line.

“We take pride in being the very first,” Anderson said. Being at the front of the line though came at a price. The trio, dressed up as their favorite characters from the series, showed up at Ronnie’s at 5 a.m. yesterday morning. To pass time before that, they made snacks from the book: cauldron cakes, butterbeer and cockroach clusters (no word on if they used real cockroaches).

Later in the day, others began showing up. A smattering said they’d arrived twelve hours before ushers hustled people into the theaters. By 8 p.m., Ronnie’s was packed. Lines were out the door two hours later. It was something that baffled manager Mary Alvarez, even though she’d been expecting this crowd for weeks.

“I don’t understand, but they’re having fun,” she said. “There’s some crazy costumes.”

Alvarez sold out eighteen auditoriums for the movie, the most she’s ever opened for a midnight showing. And she put up a 3 a.m. show. And every single person available on her schedule was working.

It wasn’t just happening at Ronnie’s either. “Part 2” shattered pre-opening sales records by making more than $32 million dollars in advance ticket sales alone and playing on 11,000 screens in more than 4,000 locations across the country. The scenes of people watching the previous films on portable DVD players, playing with Harry Potter brand Uno cards and anxiously looking to their watches every minute played out across the world last night.

And that’s why Schutzenhofer believes that even though the series is over and that she’ll be depressed “for weeks,” the culture of Harry Potter will live on, whether it’s in convention halls, in front of a big screen, or staring at the page, entranced by the magic of Rowling’s world.

“We’re our own breed,” she said.

Copyright KMOX 2011

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