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Cogs Are Back in Bloomington

A three-day event in Central Illinois aims to educate attendees about steampunk

Thursday, May 10, 2018
Cogs and Corsets

Cogs & Corsets, a (mostly) free steampunk festival, will return June 1-3 to downtown Bloomington, Illinois, with an expanded program that includes workshops, gaming, a maker competition, a "Costume Contest Runway Show," and more. This is the second year for the event, which drew more than 500 people in 2017, says co-chair Cathy Sutliff. The inaugural festival ran for two days last year, on Friday night and Saturday, but this time they've added activities for Sunday.

Cogs logo

"We see ourselves as a way to educate people about steampunk," she says. "They can jump in and test the waters" without the expense of attending a convention.

The Maker's Faire competition will allow participants to submit an "invention, accessory or gadget" for judging. Entries will be accepted between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Saturday, with winners announced later that afternoon. Awards will be presented for these, as well as costumes entered in the Runway Show, also on Saturday.

Many activities will take place at the McLean County Museum of History, which is offering free admission. They include three presentations by special guest Zebulon Vitruvius Pike, aka Kevin Geiselman: "Victorian Spacecraft," about the "science and science fiction of space travel in the 19th Century"; "History and Technology of Airships"; and a retrospective on "H.G. Wells and the War of the Worlds."

Historian Amy Wood of Illinois State University will discuss "Crime and Punishment in the Victorian Age." Octavia Quinlan will present "The Natural History and Brewing of Tea."

Other workshops are scheduled at Inside Out Accessible Art, a local gallery. These include "Victorian Hair & Makeup," "Steampunk Stories and Sonnets," and "The Myth and Fact of Victorian Medicine." Dianna Carrington and Dan McGee will offer tips for makers, including how to shop for affordable materials, and techniques for transforming those items into costumes, props and accessories.

Friday night's activities will include a steampunk promenade through downtown; two hours of tea dueling; demonstrations of tintype photography; and a demonstration of a 7-foot Tesla coil, weather permitting.

The website has a detailed schedule and workshop descriptions.

The vendor area will feature 27 sellers of steampunk props, apparel, accessories and other items. Steampunk authors Morgan Busse, Brent Mehring, Andrea Jones, Toni Johnson and Sue Rovens will be there, and on Saturday morning they'll be reading excerpts from their books.

Premium events

Most activities are free, but some will require paid admission. The Tea Ladies will host a "formal low tea," themed to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, at the historic Vrooman Mansion bed & breakfast. Two seatings are scheduled for Saturday at a cost of $32 per person.

A $5 pass will grant admission to a tea room inside the history museum for the entire weekend.

Propeller kid

Carnival Epsilon, a steampunk performance group from Tulsa, Oklahoma, will present "Sideshow Soiree," a premium ticketed event on Friday night. Drinks will be served from a cash bar, and attendees must be 21 or older. Tickets are $25. The group will present a free outdoor performance on Saturday.

Another premium event is a tour of the David Davis Mansion, which was built in 1872 and included advanced technological features for the era. Tickets are $8. Two tours are scheduled on Saturday, each limited to 20 ticket holders.

Two "Steampunk Murder Mystery" dinners are scheduled for Saturday night (5-7 p.m. and 8-10 p.m.) , at a cost of $55 per ticket.

Later Saturday night, The Bistro, an "alternative bar" and performance venue, will host The Steampunk Drag Show featuring "Sharon Sharealike’s stunning drag performers." Tickets can be purchased at the door.

A few maker workshops will charge for materials used to make props or accessories.

Why Bloomington?

Why hold a steampunk festival in Bloomington? The city "has great history, a lot of it associated with Abraham Lincoln," Sutliff says. It's also centrally located, about two-and-a-half hours from Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis. Most of last year's attendees hailed from central Illinois, but some came from other states, she says.

The idea originated with a local arts group, and the initial plan for 2017 was to hold it on Friday night. But that soon spilled over to Saturday.

The event is run by a volunteer planning committee, and Sutliff is hoping to recruit additional volunteers to help during the festival. Volunteers will receive free passes to the tea room. Details are on the website.

The festivities take place 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Cogs & Corsets is one of two steampunk events scheduled for that weekend in the Midwest. Cog County Faire V will take place June 1-3, about 250 miles north of Bloomington at the White Lake Beach Resort in Montello, Wisconsin.

This story has been updated with information about the author reading on Saturday morning. Photos by Ken Chui. They are used by permission of Cogs & Corsets.

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