BRISTOL – In a celebration of industry, history and fiction, area museums, residents and steampunk enthusiasts gathered on Federal Hill Green for the Victorian Summer Fantasy in the Park on Saturday.
Put on by Silk City Steampunk, Oddball Newt Productions along with Terryville resident and Silk City Steampunk member Scott Lyons, the event featured a Victorian themed picnic as well as ragtime music, a swap shop for steampunk artists, tea as refreshments, demonstrations and lessons from the American Clock and Watch Museum, the New England Carousel Museum, the Bristol Historical Society and more.
“I think I’ve been competing with the group for about three years now,” Lyons said. “I’m driving around all the time and I see these beautiful houses and this greenery and I’m thinking I wish I could bring my steampunk people to see this town. Then I started to learn how important this was in the industrial revolution.”
From there, Lyons and Silk City Steampunk began interacting with area museums and non-profits interested in encouraging discovery of Bristol’s historic industry, culture and more.
Lyons described steampunk as “Victorian period science fiction” and “Star Trek for people who like Jules Verne and HG Wells better than Gene Rodenberry”.
In these events, Lyons takes on the character of James Worthington, head of the engineering department at the fictional company Worthington Hartford Industrial Steam Technology. A motorcycle mechanic, he said he enjoys building with scrap metal.
David Carlson, organizer with Silk City Steampunk and head of Oddball Newt Productions, noted that the day’s event was a passion project for Lyons. Silk City Steampunk is based out of Manchester. The group was founded in 2018, but Carlson held his first steampunk ball in 2014. It slowly began to gather steam as others joined Carlson’s events.
“We started doing so much, I said we could do like 12 months of steampunk where there’s a different event every month,” he said. “That really caught on. The first thing we did was a teahouse crawl, like a pub crawl but with tea, then Victorian ice skating. Those kinds of things really jumped out.”
Carlson noted that the group will soon embark on its eighth Stupid Cupid Steampunk Ball, which will be held at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell, February 3-5, 2023.
“It’s a beautiful day and I got to experience something I didn’t really know about,” said area resident Andrew Collins. “I thought I’d come out and see what was going on and I had a good time.”
Collins competed in what is called a tea duel.
“Tea duel, you dip a biscuit into a cup of tea and then you have to hold it up,” he said. “The tea will degrade the cookie and the one who in a duel eats the last one without falling on the table wins. It is a fun activity. Everyone can do something that I’m sure most of us have never done before. It didn’t matter if you were five or 50, everyone was playing a game and we had a good time.”
Bridgette Rodrigues is a tea dueling champion and part of Silk City Steampunk. She has worked with Carlson for about five years in organizing events.
“I’ve always loved the Victorian aesthetic. I’ve always liked parasols, lace and I’m very pretty,” she said. “I love dressing up and putting together costumes. I don’t sew much, but I love finding pieces and trying on different outfits.”
Rodrigues said one of steampunk’s strongest draws was that it was an inclusive community.
Carissa Dojan, a younger steampunk enthusiast, said she’s found the community to be welcoming and hasn’t experienced anyone telling her she’s not “steampunk” enough when exploring the fandom.