Making the Magic of Mount Greylock Accessible

Pottermore website with image of Llvermorny School exterior exhibits provide access, meaning, and magic

To the residents of western Massachusetts, selecting Mount Greylock as the scene for a supernatural thriller is as natural as the clouds that envelope the peak giving it its name. After all, they are familiar with sightings of Bigfoot (of course), and ghostly “Old Coot”, a restless Civil War veteran. Nathaniel Hawthorne added to the mystery with his story of Ethan Brand who conjured up supernatural beings in his lime kiln. The Greylock experience has always had a touch of the supernatural.

Adding to this mythology famous wizard creator JK Rowling has set her Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry atop Mount Greylock in her new book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Naturally, if such a structure existed it would be invisible to “muggles” like ourselves. Access to the world of magic is limited in the world of Harry Potter to the magically gifted.

The Massachusetts War Memorial on the left, with a cross-section used in developing the exhibit.

In reality, visitors do not encounter a School of Witchcraft on top of Mount Greylock but rather the Massachusetts War Memorial. But access to the top is difficult for many people. Ascending the 92 tightly coiled steps up to the top of the monument is not for the faint-hearted.  But those that do are rewarded by fantastic views of Connecticut, New York, and Vermont as well as eastern Massachusetts. On a clear day point 90 miles away are visible. Our challenge is to make these views accessible to visitors reluctant to make the climb to the top. A technology solution was out of the question; our exhibit would be located outdoors in the vicinity of the monument structure with subzero wintertime temperatures and gale force winds (only a media wizard with magical touchscreen kiosks could pull this off). Instead, we translated the views into a wayside exhibit that mimic  the panoramic views available from the top of the tower.

Four images were composited together to create this westerly view

Photos by Jeffrey Bryne, magic by photoshop; this panoramic view encompassing more than 90 degrees is a compilation of three photos

Just send up a drone and spin it 360 degrees, right? Not so simple, the human eye is attached to a head that rotates up and down as well as left and right. We needed to capture not only the mountain ranges but the destinations near the tower such as Bascomb Lodge and the Overlook. This required Photoshop magic, which the staff at Content Design is adept at making. The photographer Jeffrey Bryne took photos at two azimuths, cut and blended for a seamless panoramic that was segmented into the four cardinal directions. Set on stainless steel posts fastened onto the Quincy granite parapet our phenolic panels will be unobtrusive and will last until a media wizard arrives with 22nd-century holographic technology placing visitors virtually at the top of the tower.



This mock-up shows the dimensional elements; eagle, medallion, and tower section. These are a boon to sight-impaired people and all visitors love to touch the exhibits!

If this was not enough interpretive enchantment, our team told the story of the War Memorial Tower. Less dramatic than the imagined Ilvermorny School with its turrets, stone walls, and monogrammed gate, it nevertheless could have served as an inspiration for its tapered column and glowing beacon. Erected in the early 20th century to honor World War One veterans who gave their lives, it now stands as a monument for all wars. Writing the text for the bronze plaque format was challenging. Within the space constraints we provided information for all aspects of the tower; the inner chamber, exterior sculpture, staircase and beacon.

Our solution was inspired by other bronze elements on the summit, creating a three-dimensional cross-section of the tower that included the inner chamber, stairs, and beacon, giving visitors a better look at the tower structure than the visitors who entered it.

After the construction fence comes down and the refurbished tower is open to the public in the fall, our exhibits will make accessible aspects of Mount Greylock and the War Memorial that until now have remained hidden to many of us—just like that school for wizards.

The final panels are elegant and inviting, and require a lot less work than climbing 92 stairs

 The final west view panel