J.K Rowling recently released information”revealing” that the first North American wizarding school in the Harry Potter universe happens to be directly across from the actual secondary school I went to in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
A view of Mount Greylock State Reservation from Mount Greylock Regional High School
Rowling’s wizarding academy, Ilvermorny, is supposedly perched atop Mount Greylock – the highest mountain in Massachusetts or something like that – which (because my high school looked out upon that very mount) is the namesake for the high school I attended for a few terrible years a lifetime ago.
An aerial view of the summit of Mount Greylock
Mixed reviews from the community have surfaced about this wizarding school: the owners of the lodge at the summit claim that they are “excited” (and that’s it – which leads me to believe they’re not that excited, or really just don’t care), while others have voiced concern about the unwanted tourism this will bring to the tourist attraction that is Mount Greylock State Reservation. Potter fans are likewise not too stoked; Rowling didn’t give a real-world location for Hogwarts, so why this school?
I adore Harry Potter as much as I despise my alma mater, so I’m not mad: I’m fascinated by this entire debacle.
First, let me tell you about the REAL school that’s associated with Mount Greylock: Mount Greylock Regional High School. It is not a fucking magical place. Never has been.
The main entrance to Mount Greylock Regional High School. PTSD, anyone?
In tenth grade English (which I now teach) I was told I wasn’t smart enough for AP English (which I now teach). The school closed for a week when I was in seventh grade (it’s 7-12 grade) because the drinking water had perchlorate in it; that chemical has since been blamed for weirdly high levels of cancer diagnoses among past students – particularly athletes, who drank a lot more of the water than the rest of the student body. Only a couple of years ago asbestos was discovered in the auditorium curtains, and (I think in that same year) the school also had to close for a day or so because the humidity made the floors so slippery that no one could safely walk.
Calling MHRHS the Slytherin of high schools would be giving it too much credit (in spite of the fact that, like Slytherin, MGRHS is an an evil, nepotistic organization designed to further those already ahead and push back those with potential but the wrong address or income level). Rather, MHGRS is the Dursley household of high schools.
But like Harry, I didn’t finish my secondary education. And also like Harry, I got out of my own version of the cupboard under the stairs and went on to do great things. He conquered the dark lord of the wizarding world, I teach high school students how to write argumentative essays. On par, I’d say. Still, there’s something very precious about the rest of the world assoicating Mount Greylock with the location of a whimsical, darkly magical place.
Mount Greylock State Reservation was a pillar of my childhood. When I was small, my mom took us up to the mountain to hike or watch the sunset with a picnic dinner. When I was medium, my family would go up for lunch in the lodge, or I’d drive the windy road with a few friends and find a secluded vista point to drink beer, smoke cigarettes, and listen to our favorite songs. Now that I’m large, I make a point to visit the mountain whenever I make it back to Massachusetts in the summer. Sometimes I drive up by myself and stare out across the miles of scenery; sometimes, my friends and I revisit the beer-and-cigarettes adventures of our past.
My first experiences in nature took place atop Mount Greylock; my first experiences with alienation took place in the halls of Mount Greylock.
So, which do I choose to glue to the “Mount Greylock” page of my emotional scrapbook? If you know me well (or have read my blog) then it’s clear that I’ve aggressively pasted pages upon pages of horror from my time in the humid halls of the high school instead of letting the pretty pictures of trees, waterfalls, and endless, gorgeous New England vistas dominate that chapter of my memory.
Perhaps I’ll seek out this Ilvermorny when I’m back in the area in August – I’d like to practice my “obliviate” on those wretched old Mount Greylock Regional High School memories.
Maybe the old magic of the place will then come back; maybe I’ll have to rebuild it on my own. It brings me peace to now have an educational aspect to Mount Greylock that doesn’t make me seethe or sweat, though.