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Steampunks Set to Invade Hannibal

Mark Twain’s boyhood home in Missouri will host one of the USA’s largest steampunk events

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Thousands of steampunk enthusiasts will make their way to Hannibal, Missouri this Labor Day weekend as the Big River Steampunk Festival comes to town. The event, scheduled for August 31-September 3, will occupy the historic downtown of the city, known as the boyhood home of Mark Twain. The packed program will include live music, riverboat cruises, teapot racing, professional cosplayers, a “Gadgets & Gizmos” contest, photography contest, sideshow performances, tea dueling, parasol dueling, nerf dueling and a numerous educational presentations.

Woman with gun

Special guests will include “Steampunk Professor” Doc Phineas along with The Cog is Dead, Frenchy and the Punk, Thomas Dean Willeford, Amy Wilder, and Carnival Epsilon.

This will be the fifth year for the event, which was conceived by Ken and Lisa Marks, founders of the Hannibal History Museum. “We wanted to do a history-based festival for Labor Day,” Ken says. Steampunk “is something that gets people into history through the back door. It’s a mix of creative arts and having that do-it-yourself attitude and the history elements.”

Based on feedback from vendors, he estimates that 10,000-12,000 people attended last year’s festival. Most activities are free, but the organizers also plan a slate of premium events. The main festivities kick off on Saturday, Sept. 1 with a parade on Main Street followed by opening ceremonies led by “Queen Victoria.”

Man with bird

Downtown Hannibal’s Main Street will be closed to automobiles, allowing for music, dance, and comedy performances plus a costume contest and facial hair contest. Willeford, Wilder and other costumers and propmakers will be on hand to discuss their work. The Airship Village at Bird and Main Street will allow steampunk groups and makers to set up spaces and interact with attendees. Vendors will occupy The Great Midway at Center St. and Kiwanis Park.

Premium Events

The Second Annual Meeting of the Society for Fermented Alchemy on Friday night will offer a chance for attendees to socialize and meet vendors and entertainers prior to the main event. Food, wine and beer will be served. Tickets cost $15. It will be held under the Big Tent at Bird and Main Streets.

Western World, an immersive cosplay event tied to HBO’s “Westworld,” will feature performances by The Cog is Dead and The Ragged Blade Band. It’s scheduled for the evening of Saturday, Sept. 1 at The Star Theater. The Cog is Dead, founded in 2006, describes itself as “a steampunk band with a bit of a musical identity crisis,” with influences that include rock, ragtime, and Russian folk music. The St. Louis-based Ragged Blade Band is self-described as “kind of ‘old-old school” with a sound that draws on blues, jazz and ragtime. Tickets cost $25 per person for the concert and $25 for a pre-show dinner.

Also scheduled for Saturday is Pirates of the Mississippi, a 90-minute riverboat cruise on the Mississippi. It will feature the “pirate comedy” of The ScallyWags and music by Fishbones and Scurvy, a duo previously known as The Rum Runners. Tickets cost $28 per person. The ScallyWags will also perform at 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the Bluff City Theater, with tickets going for $12.

Teapot Race

A Steameasy Riverboat Cruise on Sept. 2 will feature a performance by Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers, which describes its music as “an energetic blend of Hot Jazz, Hokum, and Low-Down Blues from the 1920s and 30s.” Tickets cost $28.

Both cruises take place on the Mark Twain Riverboat, a replica of a 19th century steamboat with an indoor Victorian Ballroom.

Frenchy and the Punk and Carnival Epsilon will perform at Carnivale Bizarre, scheduled for Sept. 2 at The Rialto Banquet Hall. Frenchy and the Punk, consisting of Samantha Stephenson and Scott Helland, is a familiar presence at steampunk events. Carnival Epsilon is a Tulsa-based performance group that combines sideshow acts and comedy. Tickets cost $25 per person and $18 for a buffet dinner.

Other ticketed events include the “Big River Fashion and Iced Tea Social on Saturday; “A Titanic Tea” with Lisa Marks portraying the Unsinkable Molly Brown on Sunday; late-night burlesque performances on Saturday and Sunday; a Murder Mystery Dinner Theater on Friday; and a recreation of a Victorian séance on Friday.

Proceeds from the festival benefit the history museum. The website includes a program with the complete schedule in a flipbook format. Hannibal is about 100 miles north of St. Louis.

Photos (from top) are by One Shot Photography, Theo Schuetz and Pam Roe. They're from previous photo contests and are used by permission of the Big River Steampunk Festival.

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