Steampunk Meets the Big Top

The Watch City Steampunk Festival returns to Waltham, Mass., this time with a circus theme

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Victorian whimsy will meet the Big Top as the Watch City Steampunk Festival returns to Waltham, Massachusetts, Saturday, May 12, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Much of this year's entertainment will have a circus theme, including aerial acrobatics, carnival sideshows, and an appearance by Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band.

The free event is billed as America's largest outdoor steampunk festival, but with estimated attendance of 10,000 people, it's probably one of the largest steampunk happenings of any kind. Held in Waltham Common in the city's downtown area, the festival is sponsored by the Downtown Waltham Partnership, a non-profit civic group.

In addition to the circus acts, the festival will feature a day-long exhibit of "Steam Machine Sculptures" by artist/engineer Todd Cahill. A kids' programming area will include "Kraken Fishing," "Squid Squabbles," "Tentacle Duels," and "Giant Chess."

Music will be a big part of the festivities, including appearances by Frenchy and the Punk and The Eternal Frontier.

More than 70 vendors will also be on hand. Vending space is juried to ensure that vendors are offering steampunk products. Event sponsors will also have booths.

The full schedule is available here.

Indoor Action

Though it's mostly an outdoor event, some activities will be held at indoor facilities near the Common. The Waltham Public Library will host a series of presentations, including "Bizarre Victorian Inventions" by historian and author Mark P. Donnelly, and "Steampunk 101," an introduction for attendees new to the genre. "An Hour with Mr. Charles Dickens" will feature readings by actor J.T. Turner portraying the author.

The New England School of Photography, at 274 Moody St., will be the venue for two free performances of steampunk plays in the Mrs. Hawking series. The plays, written by Phoebe Roberts and performed by Chameleon's Dish Theatre, feature Victoria Cornelia Stanton Hawking, a Victorian-era detective who shares characteristics of Sherlock Holmes and a "lady Batman."

"Mrs. Hawking - Base Instruments," is scheduled for 2 p.m. and "Mrs. Hawking - Gilded Cages," is slated for 6 p.m., after the day's festivities have ended.

At 4 p.m., the school will host "The Heterodyne Brothers and the Race to the West Pole," an improvisational performance based on Phil and Kaja Foglio's "Girl Genius."

Local museums will also be part of the fun. The Telephone Museum at 289 Moody Street will be open all day for free. The Waltham Museum at 25 Lexington Street will offer guided tours at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. The Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation will be open until 2 p.m. The latter requires paid admission.

Event Background

The festival began in 2010 as an indoor event at the Charles River Museum. "They thought they would get three or four hundred people and a thousand showed up," says lead organizer Melissa Honig. It was held outdoors the following year, and run by the museum until 2013. There was no event in 2014, and the Downtown Waltham Partnership took over a year later.

"Watch City" is the nickname for Waltham due to its history as a center of watch and clock manufacturing. The Waltham Watch Company operated there from 1850 through 1957, and the former factory is now designated as the American Waltham Watch Company Historic District. The city is about 10 miles west of Boston.

In addition to steampunk enthusiasts, the festival attracts people from the surrounding community who otherwise might not attend a steampunk event. But the steampunk bug appears to be contagious, as more locals have been showing up in steampunk garb, Honig says.

The event is run by volunteers, and "we need volunteers for tasks the day of the event," she says. Details are on the website.

The festival will be held rain or shine.

Watch City 2016 Parade

A parade at Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016. Photograph by Coelynn McInnich, www.coe-photo.com.

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