Steampunk by the Lake
Two self-confessed “steampunk geeks” will host Cog County Faire V in Montello, Wisconsin
Carnival games, a Victorian swimsuit competition and a Steamboat Regatta are among the highlights of the Cog County Faire, which returns June 1-3 to the White Lake Beach Resort in Montello, Wisconsin. It’s produced by resort owners PJ Shultz and Sarah Lash, who are “steampunk geeks in our not-so-spare time,” Lash says.
They’ll be assisted by entertainment coordinator and neo-vintage DJ Vourteque, who will host a Saturday Night Dance party. He “hires, organizes, and schedules all the entertainment,” she says, which this year will also include the 19th century sounds of Sons of Temperance.
“Pit Boss” Steve Harteau plans and builds the steampunk carnival games, many of which are inspired by games from the Victorian era. “The inspiration is across the board, from electrified buzzing puzzle games to an old-fashioned bottle/ring game, to a high striker,” she says. “They borrow from a number of genres that touch on steampunk and geekdom in general. I mean, who doesn’t want to shoot down a bronzed Dalek with a steampunk bazooka?” Winners receive tickets to enter a Saturday afternoon raffle drawing “for some fabulous Steampunk Prizes.”
The Victorian Swimsuit Competition is open to men and women, and unlike Sports Illustrated, this one will show more suit than skin.
The Steamboat Regatta is both a race and maker competition. Teams of two to six people are each given a 14-foot aluminum boat and have until Sunday morning to add a propulsion method, which cannot include an electric or gasoline engine. “Attachment and fitting to the boat must occur during the faire, but propulsion components may be worked on ahead of time,” the rules state. The winning team receives a “fabulous mystery prize,” and runners-up will be recognized for “most innovative and most stylish designs.”
Lash also promises a “pretty crazy” Friday night party under the Big Top. This is the fifth Cog County Faire, so the theme is “It’s Cog O’Clock Somewhere,” alluding to “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett. “Who says you can’t steampunk Margaritaville?” Lash says. Because they’re the resort owners, “we get to make the rules.”
Other activities include boat rides, fencing, a demonstration of black powder firearms, and a vendor bazaar.
The event began in 2013 as a Steampunk Day at the Beach. “Because of the business, we never get to attend summer steampunk events, so we decided to bring an event to us,” she says. From the start, “it was intended to be a more relaxed immersive setting, instead of your typical convention. No panels, no classes, just a bunch of steampunks hanging out on the beach. It was a blast. We started talking about what else we could do with it, and had the idea to throw an old-fashioned county faire—steampunk style.”
It usually draws about 300 guests, “so it’s a pretty intimate event,” she says. “Many of our guests are from Wisconsin, but we also have a large contingent that travels from the Chicago area, as well as the Twin Cities” and other places.
Wisconsin has an active steampunk culture, which Lash credits in part to TeslaCon, the steampunk convention held each year near Madison.
“Steampunk in general really appeals to a modern audience,” she says. “Historical reenactment has always had a strong appeal, not just in Wisconsin, but in the U.S. subculture generally. But many other historical groups are more restrictive, in terms of how much creativity you can bring to the table. Steampunk highlights individuality, creativity, and is very accepting. There’s no ‘wrong’ way to do it. You can be interested in the Victorian era, but not need to get it 100 percent right. No one is going to criticize the fiber content of your bustle!”
The festivities begin Friday, June 1 at 3 p.m. and wrap up on Sunday, June 3 at 1 p.m. The resort is located at N4785 19th Ave. in Montello, which is about 60 miles north of Madison and 120 miles northwest of Milwaukee.
Early-bird tickets are available for $35 through May 29. See the website for details.
Steampunks in the Midwest have a tough decision that weekend, as Cogs & Corsets, a mostly free steampunk festival, will take place about 250 miles south in Bloomington, Illinois.
Photos used by permission of Cog County Faire. This story was updated to add information about Samantha Siren and The Absinthe Minded Professors.
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