At first glance, Key West doesnât seem to have much in common with Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. The subtropical Florida Keys island and the castle-like Hogwarts, where young wizard Harry Potter learned magical skills and fought the dreaded Voldemort in blockbuster books and films, are separated both geographically and attitudinally.
Granted, the halls of Hogwarts are alive (?) with ghosts that might feel right at home with Robert, Key Westâs legendary haunted doll. But even so, itâs hard to picture the venerable Professor Dumbledore, Harryâs mentor, against a backdrop of vivid sun and balmy blue ocean, or quaffing a mug of butterbeer at the Smokinâ Tuna Saloon.
However, despite Hogwarts being fictional and Key West real (more or less), the two locales have a stronger connection than is first apparent.
The source of that connection is the islandâs Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, where wizardry rules in an exhibit titled âHarry Potterâs World: Renaissance Science, Magic and Medicine,â thatâs been casting a strangely powerful spell over recent visitors.
Within the multi-room exhibit, youâll find highlights from the museumâs priceless collection of Renaissance-era shipwreck antiquities. Using the fictional Potter tales as a stepping-stone, it explores authentic Renaissance traditions of alchemy, astrology, medicinal potions and herbs, the search for immortality (remember the sorcererâs stone?) and more.
Whether youâre a casual fan of the Harry Potter books and films or a fanatic, the exhibit leads you to discover the story BEHIND the story â revealing secrets that most aficionados will never know.
Youâll explore a re-creation of the wonderful wizardsâ lair of Diagon Alley, and browse apothecary shops and emporiums offering magical paraphernalia like cauldrons, mandrake plants (careful — they emit unearthly screams), healing herbs and protective poison cups.
But thereâs far more to see than re-created settings from Potter lore, and thatâs what makes the exhibit so fascinating and unique.
The rare medical instruments, navigational tools and talismans artfully displayed at the museum were salvaged by the late Mel Fisherâs divers from the shipwrecked Nuestra SeĂ±ora de Atocha and Santa Margarita â two authentic Spanish galleons that sank off Key West in 1622.
The exhibit relates each one to Harryâs adventures at Hogwarts. And frankly, itâs amazing and even a little spooky to realize how closely connected these authentic Renaissance artifacts are to objects in the fictional world inhabited by Harry and his friends.
Youâll find swords actually used during the Renaissance, surgical tools and much more. But the two most amazing artifacts are a marinerâs astrolabe â believed to have inspired the time-turner Hermione used to save Sirius Black â and a solid gold poison cup that was salvaged from the Atocha site.
The cupâs name comes from the gold wire cage inside it that holds a bezoar stone that neutralizes arsenic, apparently a favorite poison of Renaissance rogues. In the Potter series, Harry uses a bezoar stone to save the life of his best friend, Ron Weasley.
âHarry Potterâs Worldâ and the museumâs associated Renaissance programming are expected to continue through July 2013. The exhibit is a definite must-see, because almost everywhere you turn youâll discover items and nuggets of knowledge that add depth and richness to the Potter tales.
In fact, itâs likely to carry you so deep into Harryâs reality that, if youâre not careful, you just might glimpse Professor Snape lurking among the potions!