The stall that lived


One lightning scar, one trio of best friends and most significantly, one story spawned one bathroom stall that embodies all the magic. 

The Harry Potter fan base is one of the largest around the world, and the series’ admirers at Pitt found their own medium for pledging loyalty: the third floor women’s bathroom in the Cathedral of Learning. Inside Pitt’s on-campus building, revered for its similarity to Hogwarts is a stall unlike any other on campus. The Potter stall, as it is known across the University, is dedicated to sketches, quotes and other aspects of wizard culture. 

Every year, women flock to the Potter stall with markers and love for the fantastical story that has touched so many lives. No wall is off-limits, and the graffiti artists express fervor for many of the series’ houses and characters. 

Whether you’re a Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, the Potter stall has something for you. 

At the start of this semester, the University maintenance staff had wiped the walls of the Potter stall, as they doalmost every summer.  

The University’s policy on vandalism is to chemically remove the graffiti as soon as it is found or reported, according to spokesman John Fedele. If that method doesn’t work, painters repaint the stall. 

But like The Boy Who Lived, the Potter stall just can’t be defeated. 

A week into the semester, there were already new drawings. A roughly foot-long phoenix stretches across one section of a wall, accompanied by the words, “May the Potter stall rise from the ashes like a phoenix,” a nod to Professor Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes and his ability to die and be reborn. 

It’s early in the year, and the Potter stall still has a long way to go to regain the extensive collage it’s maintained in previous years. More drawings and quotes appear every day, and soon enough, it may be tough to find a bare spot on the wall.

Ruth Mullen has been a custodian at the University for 10 years and said the artwork has decorated the stall for at least three years, adding that it gets called in for clean-ups often. 

“The painter will be here, and two weeks later, it will be back,” Mullen said.  

On the same wall as the phoenix, there are other memorable quotes from the series.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good — Mischief Managed,” referencing the commands that control the Marauder’s Map, which shows the whereabouts of everyone at Hogwarts.

Another quote, “Why couldn’t it be follow the butterflies?”  Ron asks this when Hagrid advises them to “Follow the spiders” into the Forbidden Forest in Chamber of Secrets. 

There is also a drawing of a lightning bolt, with the words “Harry Pooter and the Potty of Stone,” a play on words from J.K. Rowling’s inaugural book title.  

Julia Mazina has fond memories of the Potter stall and the sense of community that came with it. 

Mazina graduated in the spring and remembers the Potter stall being there for every one of her four years. 

“It was this visual manifestation of an awesome secret Harry Potter community at Pitt. There was always a sense of comfort when you saw all the writing and pictures, like ‘these are my people’,” Mazina said. 

The Potter stall is a way for fans to reminisce on the nostalgia of the series. 

Readers first fell for the boy with a lighting scar and round glasses about 17 years ago. The first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” debuted in 1997, and the movie adaptation began bewitching audiences in 2001. Since the last book came out in 2007 — and the final movie in 2011 — various Harry Potter-themed amusement parks and fan experience and discussion websites have popped up, keeping the imaginative aura of the Potter world alive.

“Besides just being an incredible fantasy that you want to dive into headfirst, the series is like the definitive thing of our adolescence,” Mazina said. 

The Potter graffiti is in some ways akin to people who get tattoos that remind them of childhood, according to  Deb Gilman, a Pittsburgh-based family, adult and adolescent psychologist.

“People hold such a special place in their heart [for memories from childhood],” Gilman said. “There’s so many good feelings and emotions and memories that are attached to those things.”

Those behind the Potter stall, Gilman said, could be members of the Harry Potter fandom who are “trying to outdo each other with the depth and knowledge of Harry Potter.”

Fear of punishment from the University doesn’t seem to stop anyone from contributing their own artwork to the stall. 

If University authorities caught the vandals, Fedele said Pitt’s Judicial Board would decide on a punishment on a case-by-case basis.

Jessica Lee, the secretary of a Harry Potter-themed charity Pitt Project Potter, encouraged any students who admire the series enough to vandalize a restroom to channel their love for philanthropy by joining Project Potter. 

“Maybe let’s not use the word ‘vandalism,’” said Lee, a sophomore anthropology major. “Maybe decoration.”

Gilman said that oftentimes those who do graffiti may consider their art a way of “taking ownership” of the property that they vandalize.

“They also might be feeling that same type of taking ownership of Harry Potter or whatever it happens to be,” Gilman said. “[The stall is] like the Harry Potter movies — it can come back with something different every time.”