Stadium High School in Tacoma is known for many things. Throughout its history, the school’s bowl-like stadium has played host to such speakers as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. In 1998, Stadium was famously featured in the cult-classic film 10 Things I Hate About You. In 2006, the school’s 100-year anniversary celebration set a Guinness World Record for the largest school reunion, although the record was broken by an India-based school in 2017.
The 113-year-old educational institution also is known to many as the Hogwarts of Tacoma for its historic castle-like appearance and resemblance to the fictional wizarding school in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. This moniker is something that one Tacoma resident took quite literally when he decided to launch a new Instagram account.
Known to his more than 1,700 followers (and counting) simply as ExpectoTacoma, Mike Thomas launched his Harry Potter-themed Instagram account in April, leading off with a photo of himself decked out in his finest Gryffindor robes in the courtyard of, you guessed it, Stadium High School.
“If Stadium wasn’t here, I don’t even know if this account would exist,” the bespectacled 29-year-old said of the building that inspired his new persona.
Originally from a small town in Michigan, Thomas moved to West Seattle in 2013. It was there that he met his husband, Kent Thomas, who was born and raised in Tacoma. Like many native and transplant Seattleites, Thomas’s preconceived notions of Tacoma were based solely on what those around him said, and most of what he heard was not positive. One weekend trip home with Kent changed all of that.
“I was like, why does everyone in Seattle act like this is the worst place in the world? Because I was immediately like, this place is beautiful,” Thomas recalled of his first drive along Schuster Parkway.
It didn’t take long after that first introduction for Thomas to realize that the City of Destiny was destined to be his home. In 2016, Thomas and his husband settled in Tacoma, and Thomas went to work at MultiCare as a music therapist. From that point on, the idea for a costumed photo at Stadium was omnipresent in Thomas’ mind.
“I thought, it would be fun to just get dressed up and take a picture in front of Stadium and share it with people,” Thomas said of one of his earliest photos, first uploaded in April. Once the account began gaining attention, Thomas started a wish list of sites around Tacoma from which to capture more scenes.
“It’s my two loves,” Thomas said of his account’s juxtaposition of whimsical fun and historical fact — each post includes a short history lesson about the location. “There’s Harry Potter, which I think about way more than I think I should be, and then I have just absolutely fallen in love with Tacoma. It just felt like the perfect hybrid.”
Though Thomas didn’t start the account with any specific mission or goal, he said a beneficial byproduct of curating his feed means digging into the history of Tacoma landmarks and sharing the stories of the generations that helped build Tacoma.
“Part of the account is acknowledging that Tacoma has a past, it has a present, and a future, and we are all a part of that story. I think part of the magic is connecting the dots between those things,” he said.
Thomas’ love for the seven-book series isn’t a new development. He estimates he was about 8 or 9 years old when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the series, was first released in the U.S.
“I was going through some hard times,” Thomas remembered of the time when he first encountered “The Boy Who Lived.”
“As I look back, I think of how much of a comfort (the books) were to me and at how much courage and strength Harry showed. It was kind of like a map for me. And I am finding so much meaning in the stories as an adult, way more than I did as a kid.”
Thomas illustrated one such bit of symbolism he gleaned from the stories in a photo posted during the Tacoma Pride celebration in July.
In the photograph, Thomas and his husband were playfully posed on the Spanish Steps outside of the McMenamins Elks Temple. They had jettisoned the usual Harry Potter regalia, opting instead for rainbow tie dye, and held signs reading, “If Harry Potter taught us anything … It’s that no one should live in a closet!”
Thomas said the post resonated with many of his followers.
“One of our friends texted me and asked, ‘Can I use this photo to talk about LGBTQ stuff with my kids, because they are really into Harry Potter?’ He told me (he thought it was) a beautiful symbol — this idea that Harry was living in the cupboard under the stairs, and he was sort of liberated to be his true self,” Thomas said. “I think there’s a lot of symbolism there, for anything, not just LGBTQ stuff.”
And that’s not the only impact Thomas’ account is having on his followers. One user messaged Thomas and told him that she was taking her grandchildren to the places in his photos to make new memories. A displaced Tacoma native commented on a photo and expressed gratitude for the comforting views of his hometown following the death of a close friend.
More still leave comments like, “OMG, pure magic,” and, “Your posts brighten my days.”
If nothing else, Thomas said he hopes his followers are able to find a little magic close to home.
“I’ve been thinking about what is magic,” Thomas said. “For me, it’s a lot about finding beauty in the everyday — noticing things you haven’t seen before, going to new places, meeting new people — basically, creating new opportunities.”
To get to know Mike Thomas — also known as ExpectoTacoma on Instagram — a little better, we quizzed his alter ego on all things within the domain of the wizarding world.
Book or Movie?
Book. I love both, but you can’t beat the magic of the books.
Gryffindor, of course.
What is your patronus?
A doe. I come across deer in Tacoma all the time!
Lumos. A simple one, but so useful.
An owl, for sure.
Charms. Wingardium Leviosa!
Career after Hogwarts?
Hogwarts would need a school counselor, right?
Favorite Quidditch team?
The Chudley Cannons — you gotta love a good underdog.
Favorite wizarding world location to hang out?
Diagon Alley — so much to see and explore.
Favorite Diagon Alley shop?
Speaking of… Ollivander’s Wand Shop.
Daily Prophet or Quibbler?
Hands down, the Quibbler! It may be quirky and a little unconventional, but they have Harry’s back and resist a corrupt government.