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Steampunk Fun at the Cog

The Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire will host a free steampunk fest

Sunday, August 11, 2019
Railway to the Moon group photo

Steampunk fans in New England will be headed to the White Mountains for the 4th annual Railway to the Moon Steampunk Festival, which happens Aug. 17 and 18 at the Mount Washington Cog Railway in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.

The program includes tea dueling, a steampunk fashion show, a steampunk puzzle room, and demonstrations of Todd Cahill’s “Steamachine” sculptures. Steampunk maker Bruce Rosenbaum will discuss “The Art and Design of Steampunk,” one of several educational presentations. Other guests include authors Jessica Lucci and Dan Szczesny. The King’s Busketeers will provide musical entertainment, and Ed the Wizard will present a magic show for kids. About 20 vendors will be selling steampunk-related wares.

Marsh rack and pinion system

Admission is free, but paid tickets will be required to ride the railway, commonly known as the Cog. Completed in 1869, it was the first mountain-climbing rack-and-pinion railway, which uses a cog wheel in the locomotive to mesh with rack teeth in the rail. It takes passengers to the summit of Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the northeastern U.S.

The festival was conceived to “boost exposure [for the Cog] and reach to a new crowd,” says marketing director Becky Metcalf. The railway was designed and built by Sylvester Marsh, a 19th century engineer who was “the ultimate steampunker,” she says.

“Railway to the Moon” refers to a comment made by a New Hampshire legislator when Marsh was seeking a charter to build the Cog. He was granted the charter despite a general impression that his idea was insane. “Do not let us waste time in this discussion,” the legislator said. “If the man wishes a charter to build a railway to the moon, let us give it to him.”

Steampunk U

In addition to Rosenbaum’s talk, Citizens of Antiford will present “Steampunk 101” for folks unfamiliar with the genre. The Citizens are steampunk enthusiasts in New England who frequently participate in local geek events. Heather Rockwood, director of the Jewelry City Steampunk Festival in Attleboro, Massachusetts, will share her wisdom about producing steampunk events. She’s also hosting the Kids’ Korner, an area where young folks can build their own robots. Lucci will discuss her steampunk novel, Watch City, Waltham Watch.

These speakers will appear each day. On Sunday only, Szczesny will discuss his experiences exploring the “history and mystique” of Mount Washington. They formed the basis of his 2018 book, The White Mountain: Rediscovering Mount Washington’s Hidden Culture.

An immersive adventure

New this year is “Among the Clouds,” an immersive, interactive steampunk adventure that will take place on one train ride each day. As part of the adventure, actors will portray Sylvester Marsh and his wife Cornelia. It’s produced by Curious Experience Design, a group in the Boston area that specializes in immersive experiences. But they’ve “never done it on the train,” Metcalf says.

Saturday’s adventure, which begins at noon, is sold out. A few tickets are still available for the Sunday adventure at 9 a.m. Even if you miss the adventure, you can take one of the other train rides, which leave every hour. Adult tickets cost $88 to ride a steam-powered train and $72 for a biodiesel train. Discounts are available for seniors, active military, veterans, and kids 4-12.

Sunday’s steampunk adventure will be on a steam-powered train. Each round trip takes about three hours, which includes an hour to explore the mountaintop.

Mount Washington Cog Railway

This year’s festival is the first to run over two days instead of one. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, rain or shine. See the festival website for more info.

On Saturday night, the Adventure Suites theme hotel in North Conway will host an after-party with food, drinks, entertainment, and a costume contest. It will take place in the hotel’s new Western-themed saloon. The cover charge is $10.

Also that night, the railway will present a free public fireworks display in honor of its 150th anniversary.

The festival is part of a busy weekend for steampunk enthusiasts in the Northeast, as the Key City Steampunk Festival is happening in Frederick, Maryland. See our recent story about that event.

Photo of the Marsh rack and pinion system is by Kremerbi [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Other photos used courtesy of the Mount Washington Cog Railway.

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