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Steampunk's "Me-Too" Moment

Misconduct allegations sink one of the largest steampunk events

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Steampunk World's Fair (SPWF), billed as the largest steampunk festival on the East Coast, has apparently met its demise in the wake of allegations against Jeff Mach, whose company produced the event.

The Silver Phoenix Society (SPS) announced on February 21 that it had acquired "the rights and management" of SPWF. But on Tuesday, SPS announced on its Facebook page that it was ending its involvement with SPWF, and instead would launch a new event this autumn known as the Silver Clockwork Exposition and Symposium. SPWF has been held each May in northern New Jersey, and the next one was scheduled for May 4-6. SPS is a new non-profit organization founded by a former employee of Jeff Mach Events (JME).

Misconduct allegations

Mach's troubles became public in January, when former volunteers and employees of JME came forth with allegations of sexual misconduct and unethical business practices. Steampunk vendor Bess Goden outlined many of the accusations in an article for Steampunk Journal.

On Jan. 26, Mach addressed the allegations in a lengthy post on his Facebook page. He stated: "Many of the things said were valid, while others may have been the result of rumors. Some of the issues raised are from a long time ago and have been addressed, while others are more recent. . . In reading the accounts of the three individuals who have been brave enough to step forward, I have realized that my actions have been inadvertently harmful to many people." He then announced that he would step back from his "public role."

Within a few days, Jeff Mach Events had been redubbed "Just Magical Events." On Jan. 29, the new CEO, Tammy Shipps, announced on Facebook that Mach would be banned from the company's events, that he would no longer draw a salary, and that a new organization would assume ownership of SPWF. Shipps had previously served as JME's webmaster.

Enter the Silver Phoenix Society

SPS announced its formation on February 19, and a day later Shipps was named president and treasurer.

In addition to the Steampunk World's Fair, SPS announced that it would acquire JME's Wicked Faire, billed as an "unbounded" Renaissance Faire for people ages 16 and older. That event was last held Feb. 2-4 in Princeton.

Despite the SPS announcement, the deal to acquire the events was never finalized. On March 9, a new SPS chairperson, Michael Whitehouse, announced in a Facebook video that SPS would not be purchasing the rights to the name "Steampunk World's Fair," and instead would operate the same event under the name Silver Clockwork Exposition.

"The day after Wicked Faire, we had most of an agreement with Jeff Mach to buy the events, and then the lawyers got involved," he said. "What should have taken a couple days dragged into weeks and out to a month. Our comfortable three-month lead time shrank to a challenging but totally possible two-month lead time. But we needed to get planning the event immediately, which brought us to this solution. Rather than buying Steampunk World's Fair, we are borrowing all the resources of Steampunk World's Fair which [don't] require lawyers."

Under the new arrangement, the hotel contracts would not be transferred to SPS, but instead would remain in Mach's name. Whitehouse said that Mach would assist in managing the contracts, but that Mach would not receive compensation for that work, would not have influence over management of the event, and would not attend.

Distrust and anger

Despite the new ownership, former SPWF participants expressed continued distrust and anger toward the organizers, and the news that Mach would remain involved, even at a minimal level, appeared to be too much.

"The community that we love and support has made it clear that this event is forever tainted by the former management’s misdeeds and mistakes, and we acknowledge the pain that was caused and we do not want to continue pouring salt into the wounds," SPS stated in its March 13 announcement that it was severing ties with SPWF.

Shortly thereafter, SPS added the following note: "When we made this announcement, the idea was floated to us of running a vendor bazaar by the name of End of the World Fair at the SPWF hotel. It would be a much simpler event than SPWF, but will still allow our vendors and community come together for some Steampunk fun." The group said it would provide additional details within 72 hours.

JME also produced two adults-only alternative-lifestyle events, The Geeky Kink Event and The Geeky Kink Event New England. These are now owned by Turtle Hill Events and run as THE Dungeons + Geekdoms NE and NJ.

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