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Steampunk Digest - January 3, 2020

Our weekly roundup of news and other happenings in the steampunk world

Friday, January 3, 2020
Big River Steampunk Festival
Parade at the 2019 Big River Steampunk Festival. Photo: Curt Knapp.

The Hannibal History Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, in danger of closing due to a lack of funds, will remain open at least until March thanks to a donation from a source who wishes to remain anonymous. The museum is led by Ken and Lisa Marks, who also run the Big River Steampunk Festival, one of the largest steampunk events in the U.S. They originally conceived the festival as a fundraiser for the museum, but Ken told local TV station KHQA that funds from the festival were insufficient to keep the museum open.

Ken announced the museum’s likely closure in a Dec. 10 Facebook post. At the time, he said the non-profit organization that runs the museum would “continue to exist, much like a historical society, meaning donations and permanent loans are protected and properly stored.” He added that the steampunk festival is “still on for 2020, and the members of the organization are on board as volunteers.”

He announced the donation in a follow-up post on Dec. 23. While the museum is open, “we will be seeking new avenues for closing the fundraising gap, including public sources not related to tourism,” he wrote.

KHQA reported that the museum costs $26,000 per year to operate. It does not charge for admission. The festival, which draws more than 8000 people over Labor Day Weekend, brings $1 million into the city, the station reported.

Those who wish to support the museum can make donations through the website, or they can help raise funds via the Facebook page.

Hannibal is best known as the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. Now he’s a character in a new comic book created as a promotion for the Big River Comic Convention, scheduled for April 17-19 in the Missouri town. In the story, he teams up with Nikola Tesla to help create a new superhero known as Miss Big River, who will become a mascot for the convention. It was written by Charlotte Mila with art by David Fought. Issue #1 is available from the convention website or in a 35-page digital edition on Amazon.

The real Twain and Tesla became friends in the 1890s, and this is not the first time they have joined forces in comic book pages. They’re also heroes in The Five Fists of Science, a 2006 graphic novel by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders. The antagonists in that tale were Thomas Edison (of course) along with J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Guglielmo Marconi.

Twain in Tesla's lab

The news gods bequeathed another segue, as the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley unveiled “Six degrees of Mark Twain,” a multimedia project that explores the author’s connections to Tesla along with P.T. Barnum, Helen Keller, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Ulysses S. Grant. It draws on the library’s vast collection of materials associated with Twain, including personal letters, photos, and unpublished essays.

On the project website, you can click on a portrait of each historical figure to see information about their relationship with the author. For example, we learn that Barnum frequently sent Twain “curious begging letters” from people hoping to join the circus.

The Tesla section notes their mutual interest in technology and invention. Shown above is a public domain photo of Twain in Tesla’s laboratory in 1894, holding an experimental vacuum lamp. It was published in the March 1895 issue of The Century Magazine.

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Steam Powered Giraffe has released two more singles and music videos from its next album, which does not yet have a title. “Hot on the Trail” was released Dec. 24, followed a week later by “Transform.” You can purchase downloads of the singles from the SPG online store as well as iTunes and Bandcamp. The videos can be viewed on the band’s YouTube channel. The singles follow the release of “Shattered Stars” and “Latum Alterum (Ya Ya Ya)” in September. SPG plans to release new singles in pairs every few months.

Public domain books

On Jan. 1, books, movies, and other works released in 1924 entered the public domain in the United States. Among the books losing copyright protection: The Dream by H. G. Wells; The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs; The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany; A Passage to India by E. M. Forster; Billy Budd by Herman Melville; and two mystery novels by Agatha Christie. Other works include “The Rats in the Walls,” a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, and a 1924 edition of Mark Twain’s autobiography compiled by his literary executor, Albert Bigelow Paine.

The current copyright term of 95 years was set in 1998 as part of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, known informally as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act because it ensured that the Disney character would not enter the public domain until 2024. Prior to the Sonny Bono Act, the copyright term was 75 years. The New York Public Library blog has an explanation of the “convoluted history” of U.S. copyright law.

You can head over to Wikipedia for comprehensive lists of books, movies, and music released in 1924.


Michael Montgomery of New Orleans is using Kickstarter to raise funds for a seven-foot-tall, LED-illuminated, steampunk icosahedron sculpture. He says he will design it to spin and to be easily moved to different outdoor locations in the city. An icosahedron is a three-dimensional object with 20 flat polygonal faces. A math and science teacher, he describes it as “my favorite regular polyhedron.” It will get its steampunk look from bolted steel edges on each of the 20 faces, he says.

The project launched on Jan. 1 and seeks $400 by Jan. 26. He was more than halfway toward that goal after the first day. He estimates the total cost at about $1000. See the Kickstarter page for more info.

Quick Hits

This Stunning Steampunk Wedding Includes a Cake Made Out of Nuts, Bolts, and Wheels! (Pop Sugar)

Queen’s Brian May Reveals His Experimental SteamPunk Style For The First Time (Metal Head Zone)

ModVic Brings “Flying Cloud Clipper” Vision to Life for Tech Firm in New Jersey (ModVic)

How William Gibson Keeps His Science Fiction Real (The New Yorker)

Vermont man makes steampunk lamps (WCAX-TV)

Apex Legends Fan Designs Steampunk Octane Outfit (DBLTAP)

Interview: R.A. McCandless on The Clockwork Detective, Writing, and Life (Deborah J. Ross blog)

Retropunk: The Strange Sci-Fi Subgenre (25YearsLater)

1879: The Year 2019CE in Review (FASA Games)

Game review: Jamestown+ (The Gaming Outsider)

Dieselpunk real-time strategy Iron Harvest gets a new gameplay trailer (AltChar)

The tacky robber baron palaces of Nob Hill (SF Gate)

Meet the scientist trying to travel back in time (CNN)

This Insect Has the Only Mechanical Gears Ever Found in Nature (Smithsonian Magazine)

5 Big Archaeology Discoveries to Watch for in 2020 (LiveScience)

Top Stories

These were the most-viewed stories in December in The Steampunk Explorer.

1. The End of the Beginning (Prof. Elemental's commentary on the state of steampunk)

2. Steampunk Digest - Dec. 6, 2019

3. Year in Review: Top Stories of 2019

4. The Steampunk Art of Burning Man

5. Scenes from the Mad Hatter Parade

6. Steampunk Digest - Dec. 13, 2019

7. Top Brass Gather in Sacramento

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