Twenty-five years ago, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, known as the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S., sent wizards and muggles alike into the frenzy known as Potter-mania, and Knoxville embraced the phenomenon.
Fans were spellbound by the bespectacled boy with a lightning bolt scar who went from living in a cupboard under the stairs to the magical halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Since then, six more books, eight feature films, multiple spin-offs, video games and countless amounts of merchandise have kept Potter-mania alive and kicking since the initial book’s release. So, come with us through Platform 9 & ¾ and hop on the Hogwarts Express, as we use our Time-Turners to travel back into the wizarding history of Harry Potter in Knoxville.
Potter-mania officially hit Knoxville in 1999. By then, the first three books had been released.
“I think they’re very well written and creative,” said Chelsey McCoy, a fan of the books, at the time.
Aimed at middle schoolers, Harry Potter was definitely working his magic
, because the books disappeared off of shelves.
“Hundreds. We’ve sold hundreds of each of the three currently in release. It’s hard to keep them on the shelf. We have massive bulk orders through the holidays with these and we’re just hoping we’ll be able to meet the demand,” said Robbie Ryan, a Barnes and Noble spokesperson at the time.
The same could be said for local libraries, as waiting lists were well over a hundred for some branches.
“When I finish it, I just want to read it again, and again, and again, and over again,” said Clare Welsch, a Harry Potter fan.
The Harry Potter books were a hit among parents
, too, as they finally got their children to open a book.
“They have really piqued her interest. She’ll read for hours. Something I have wanted her to do and encouraged her to do, and I’m just delighted to see that she has gravitated towards these books,” said Diane McCoy, Chelsey's mom.
The hype was real for the July 8, 2000, release of the much anticipated fourth book, the Goblet of Fire. Over 300,000 copies were pre-ordered online. As Amazon prepared their pallets of literature, fans were ready for the next chapter with a midnight release at Barnes and Noble.
“I just like the book so much. I just wanted to see if I could come out and get it right away,” said Katelyn Stewart, a fan of the series.
Although she had to get out of her comfort zone, Annie Wills was more than willing to stay up late for a chance to be one of the first to read the book.
“I don’t like crowds. I’m usually asleep by now. So, no, I haven’t done this before, and I don’t think I will again until the fifth one comes out,” she said.
Wills said the wait was worth it, though, as Harry Potter was a chance to rekindle her childhood imagination.
“He’s so good. He cares about people. He’s so kind, but he’s also got that magical, mystical quality that I think all kids have and then lose as we grow up. You can put yourself in there and live it as you’re reading the book, and I think that makes it a little bit different,” she said.
In November 2001, fans dawned their finest wizard robes and flocked to movie theaters for the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
“I’m coming by myself to see Harry Potter. I’ve read all the books, and I thought it was just really incredible that so many older people are coming to see it as well as the younger people,” said Kyble Thomas, a fan.
Movie theaters said the fan turn-out could rival that of another fantastical saga.
“With any indication of what we got when we first got here initially, we’re going to do really exceptional, maybe even Star Wars quality,” Carmike Theater Manager David Frei said.
Along with a grand movie premiere comes an equally massive amount of merchandise, and wizards spent plenty of Knuts, Sickles and Galleons on everything from toys to clothes.
“I expect it should sell out. Anything to do with Harry Potter will do pretty well,” said Darin Chandler, a Target employee at the time.
It indeed did pretty well, as the movie grossed almost a billion dollars at the box office.
In November 2002, Halls Cinema 7 owner Danny Wallace made sure he was stocked and ready for the release of Harry Potter’s second theatrical adventure, the Chamber of Secrets. The family-owned theaters hoped the second movie would catch them a Golden Snitch.
“This week a big 18-wheeler rolled in here, and we unloaded about six or seven pallets of candy, popcorn, and of course, Coke and stuff will be in here tomorrow,” Wallace said.
If the first movie’s gross was anything to go by…
“I anticipate my numbers being close to the same which was one of the bigger grossing movies that ever came out of Halls,” Wallace said.
The movie grossed nearly $900,000 worldwide.
In 2003, the 896-page fifth book, the Order of the Phoenix, had fans itching for more magic months before its release on June 21.
“I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. He’s really exciting and goes on adventures and had fun and is a normal teenager and it’s easy to connect,” said Miranda Reseigh, a Harry Potter fan.
It had been almost three years since the release of the Goblet of Fire, and local booksellers felt the anticipation as they managed thousands of pre-orders.
To meet the demand, Barnes and Noble hosted another midnight release for the new book.
“We are going to be open all evening on June 20, and we’ll start selling the book at one minute after midnight,” said John Tullock, a Barnes and Noble manager.
Trying to beat the crowds, WBIR reporter Kay Watson went to local shops to get her hands on a copy before anyone else.
Unfortunately Scholastic, the book's publisher, had strict guidelines on how to handle the hysteria surrounding the next release.
“Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t let anybody see the book. Keep the boxes sealed,” said Anne Petree, a manager at Borders.
Most stores wouldn’t even tell us if the books had arrived yet, just two days away from release.
“We start selling them at 12:01 Friday after midnight. We’re not going to be able to get the book until that evening,” said Leslie Wolburg, a supervisor at Books-A-Million.
One manager told us she had to turn down cash offers for what was expected to be the biggest children’s book ever with a first print run of over 8 million copies.
“I think that it’s created a lot of buzz around the book. I think Scholastic has done a good job of marketing, and I think the security adds to it,” Wolburg said.
At the end of the day, to the managers of the stores, it’s all worth it.
“Anytime you can get a child to read and use their imagination, you did a good thing,” Petree said.
Release night finally arrived, and Potterheads crowded into bookstores in droves to get their hands on the Order of the Phoenix.
“I’ve been reading the books about a million times. I’ve been making my costume. It took forever to make my quill, and I’ve been bouncing off the walls with excitement,” said Chelsea Plaut, a Potterhead.
With so much time to ponder what came next for the students of Hogwarts, rumors were rampant.
“Ron’s going to join the quidditch team, and someone’s going to die. It’s all exciting, very exciting,” said Brad Windle, a Potterhead.
The clock struck 12:01 a.m. and books were handed out by the hundreds, but for these fans, the night was only beginning as they journeyed into the Order of the Phoenix. The smiles were wide, and they weren’t just coming from the kids.
“I’m thrilled that she wants to read and if this is what she wants to read, that’s great, and I’m glad that she’s hip to what’s going on right now,” a parent said.
June 2004 brought the release of the third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Fans thought it superseded the first two cinematic outings.
“Most of the kids in my class are Harry Potter fans, and they should go see it. I have a kid in my class, and he’s read every single book like three times and he would love to see this movie," a third grade fan said.
“We thought it was superb. Excellently done. Much better than the other two, and we can’t wait for the fourth,” another fan said.
In July 2005, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was ready to hit the shelves, and just like its predecessors, the anticipation was high for the new book. Once again, the works of fiction were locked up tight. Not even employees were privy to information about it.
“I’ve had a couple people ask how many copies we have, how many we’re getting in, and all I can say is “I don’t know.”, because it’s all wrapped up tight. We’re not allowed to know," said Casheen Mobley, a Books-a-Million clerk.
This time around, Books-A-Million adopted a voucher system to guarantee patrons a copy of the book at the midnight release party.
“I’ve seen how many of the vouchers that I’ve sold since we started, and if half of those people come in, it’s going to be a madhouse,” Mobley said.
That same month, an announcement went out that the Knox County library system would receive 120 copies of the sixth book, much to the delight of young readers.
“I don’t get this excited about the other books coming out for the other series as I do about the new book coming out in this series,” fan Allison Connely said.
For librarian Libby Nelson, Harry Potter acted as a gateway to other books.
“They are lining up to get the books. They want to re-read the ones they read before when the new one comes out. Then it leads them into, 'What else do you have that’s like Harry Potter?' I just want their face in a book, so if this gets them reading, I’m all for it," Nelson said.
2005 ended with a bang with the theatrical release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
“I’m so excited. I love Harry Potter. I’ve read all the books multiple times. I’m here with all my friends,” theater patron Rosemary Shupp.
“We’ve been working on these costumes all summer just for this movie. It’s very exciting,” Dayle Stewart said at the time.
After the fourth movie’s release, fans would have to wait until the summer of 2007 to witness the magic once again.
July 2007 proved to be a big month for Potterheads as the fifth movie, the Order of the Phoenix, made its way to movie theaters on July 11.
Ten days later, on July 21, the seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, marked the end of the literary journey for Harry, Ron, Hermione and so many more unforgettable characters. Local retailers, once again, held midnight releases for the print powerhouse, and fans dressed to the nines with robes, hats and wands, as Harry Potter's story came to a close.
“I’m just so glad it’s finally out. Even though I’ve heard a few spoilers, I don’t care. I’m still going to read it,” release attendee Lindsay McSwain said.
Although Harry Potter's written pages closed, his cinematic journey still had three movies to go.
Another two years passed until another film hit the big screen. In 2009, the sixth movie in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released. Although it meant that the end was drawing near for the cinematic escapades of the beloved characters, fans still came out to support their favorite wizard.
“This one is very, very good. It goes within the realm of the Harry Potter books and this one actually matches the book to a T, so I really, really enjoyed this movie,” one fan said.
Extending our enchanting experience just a bit longer, Harry’s seventh book would be split into two movies. Roughly a year and a half later, fans witnessed the penultimate cinematic chapter of Harry Potter with the Deathly Hallows Part One.
“I’ve had it circled on my calendar ever since I heard it was going to come out, and I’ve just been waiting,” fan C.J. Hurt said.
Moviegoers left the theater excited about what was left for Harry and his friends.
“I’ve just seen all of the other movies. After watching this, it has blown my mind, and I don’t know if I can wait six months for the part 2 to come out," one anxious fan said at the time.
In preparation for the final cinematic outing, super fans Anna and Sophie decided to tailgate at the theater, complete with cupcakes and butterbeer.
“We’ve kind of obsessed over Harry Potter together, which is cool because no other friends were this deep into it. It’ll be around for decades. It’s a literary classic. Fifty years from now kids will still be picking up those books. It’s timeless. So, people are going to always be reading them and I want to say when I’m fifty that I went to the premier. People are really excited for this. They’ve waited a long time for this movie," Anna said.
Five hours before the midnight release, fans began lining up outside the Regal Pinnacle in Knoxville. To pass the time, patrons read books, played games and even practiced wizardry. Having to wait, however, didn’t lessen the magic in the least.
“We knew this was going to be a great time, and because we knew this was going to be the last installment, I had never done one of these midnight things before. I thought, 'I’m going to do this,'” one fan said.
Anna and Sophie made their way inside the theater and took a moment for the atmosphere to sink in.
“It’s great to see all the costumes and even management was wearing Gryffindor ties. I’m excited. It’s the very end, and I’m excited," Sophie said.
The poster said it best: “It all ends.” Almost 15 years since the release of the first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 put a bow on the story of Harry Potter.
“As the movies have winded down, as the books have ended, it’s been an excitement and a little bittersweet at the same time,” C.J. Hurt said.
The cinematic saga went out with a bang.
“It’s fantastic. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. They put everything in there and even added some stuff that I didn’t expect to be in there. It was great. They did it perfectly,” Hurt said.
The story of the little boy who lived under the stairs at 4 Privet Drive reached its finale, but the influence he left would be felt for years to come.
2012 and Beyond:
In 2012, Professor Jake Hamric at Pellissippi State Community College taught a course called Harry Potter and the Goblet of Higher Education. The class focused on how to use lessons learned from the Harry Potter books and apply them to real life.
“The classrooms with courses about Harry Potter may have 25 students, and 75 show up on the first day because they know Harry Potter and they want to discover from a teacher, an expert, how can we learn about this and apply this to politics or morality or power,” Hamric said.
Rapper and Oak Ridge native Will “Lil’ Iffy” Wright brought a dose of magic to the hip hop game with a style that he called “Wandcore.” The Harry Potter-inspired rhymes led the local rapper to even play at Bonnaroo.
“Like the books are so rich with language and mythology. Now it’s like three years later and the one song, 'Hahaha' has taken us everywhere," Wright said.
A National Library of Medicine traveling exhibit made its way to UT Medical Center to show the comparison between the magic in Harry Potter to renaissance science, magic and medicine. The exhibit was a learning tool for students and teachers alike.
Even quidditch tournaments have been held in park fields across the area.
What mega-franchise would be complete without spinoffs? Harry Potter-related book releases are still popping up from time to time.
When the book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was released in July 2016, fans were just as excited as ever to read the further adventures of the titular hero.
“People have been waiting for this for years. I’m anxious to see how his kids are doing, and Ron and Harry and Hermione are doing themselves," one eager fan said at the time.
The in-universe creature guidebook, 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them', spun off into its own movie series in 2016. Three films based on the book have been released so far.
The Hogwarts Express shows no sign of slowing down. With more projects on the horizon, and even a 25th-anniversary re-release of the Philosopher’s Stone, it seems the magic will remain for years to come.