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Steampunk festival in Waltham brings thousands to the city's center

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  May 12, 2012 07:32 PM

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Everett resident Dave Irish, 47, donned the iconic brass goggles worn by novice and expert steampunkers alike for this year's festival in Waltham. Irish said while he always sports long facial hair, he waxes his beard and mustache “on special occasions like this.”

Area residents donned clunky goggles, brass-buttoned coats and Victorian-era corsets to celebrate the weekend-long Watch City Festival in Waltham today, the third annual Steampunk event to benefit the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation.

Steampunk, an underground movement that envisions modern-day technology with a Victorian era aesthetic (think: The Prestige meets Iron Man), has gained traction in loyal followers and an ever-growing fan base.

Thousands of people in Victorian gowns and 19th century garb swarmed central Waltham Saturday morning and afternoon, visiting the vendors set up on the commons, browsing exhibits in the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation, and chatting with strangers sharing the same unbridled enthusiasm for all things steampunk.

The festival this year is estimated to bring a total of at least 15,000 people, said Elln Hagney, executive director of the museum and this weekend's event organizer.

Proceeds made from selling admission passes will go toward renovating the museum, which suffered $500,000 worth of damage in a 2010 spring flood.

Steampunk attendees showed chipper spirits today, enjoying the bountiful sun and 80-degree weather.

The festival enjoyed more costumed camaraderie than last year, as local residents who noticed the event in 2011 were converted over the year into the steampunk state of mind.

Carene Capoccia, 42, said walking around last year’s festival inspired her to dress up for today's event.

“I wish I had known about Steampunk sooner,” the Waltham resident said. “I hope they have it every year.”

Thirteen-year-old John Pirolli of Waltham said he saw everyone dressed up last year on Mother's Day while driving with family to visit his grandmother nearby.

"This is just fun - it's a different culture to be immersed in," Pirolli said.

Vendors, performers and exhibitors also flocked to the scene. Band members of Diabolis In Musica said this was their first year playing their music from the middle ages at the festival.

"We have been into steampunk anyway, and there's no real dictionary definition for anything here," said Everett resident Sioux Gerow, who plays in the band.

Steampunk's famed Emperor of the Red Fork Empire also made a special appearance at the festival, cheekily explaining that the functional mechanical arm extension he sported was “a cosmic artifact that happened to come to me when the multiverse was created.”

He said the artificial limb “extracts the dull from people,” as anyone who wears it instantly lights up with happiness.

“The enemy of the empire is the dreaded, despicable dull,” he said.

Couples in costume also swarmed to the event. Jessica Jackson, 25 of Stoneham and Brian Chamberlin, 35, of Taunton strutted in respective gowns and Victorian era suits alongside the museum.

Jackson said she constructed the whole gown she wore by herself, basing the theme around vintage grandfather clocks – including the dark brown fabric, which emulates the wood grain of a clock’s exterior.

“It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve always been into Victorian-era clothing,” Jackson said.

Chamberlin said he dressed up as his steampunk persona, Dr. Phobias, who aims to instill fear in others.

He showed off a vintage dentist drill – “because everyone is afraid to go to the dentist,” he chuckled – and a turkey baster that doubles as a frightful foot-long syringe.

Loo Catalano, 28, along with her friend Kristin Boucher, 29, and her husband Eric, 38, posed under a lacey parasol to protect herself from the sun.

The Catalanos married in October, adopting a steampunk theme for the wedding that took place at the Commander’s Mansion in Watertown.

“I turned to come down the aisle, and I saw all these top hats and I was just so excited for it,” Loo said.

Elizabeth and Christopher Paolella, 33 and 35 respectively, drove from Coventry, Rhode Island to show off their steampunk innovations.

Christopher showcased his mechanical arm cannon, assuring admirers that it was not fully functional.

“If it actually worked, my shoulder would be out there on the street,” he joked.

The businesses surrounding the event also enjoyed busy sales as well. Hagney said area restaurants and bars are "ecstatic" about this year's event, as many saw lines out the door last year, and even ran out of certain culinary dishes as Steampunkers flocked to the city.

"In A Pickle told me, 'Many say they will bring thousands, but Elln, you did it and you delivered,'" Hagney said, adding that Watch City Brewing Co. had a record-breaking sales weekend.

Hagney said Waltham's government, including Mayor Jeannette McCarthy, have been fully supportive of the event, opening City Hall for use during the weekend.

Hagney also said the police and fire departments proved more than cooperative for this year's festival, citing last year's success and the polite spirits of attendees as main attributes.

"I didn’t hear a single negative response last year. Police couldn’t even cite someone littering – this is a truly family-friendly event," Hagney said. "To not even have a speeding ticket or fender bender is pretty remarkable."

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at

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