Jaclyn Reiss for Boston.com/2012
As the days get longer and the sun begins to warm the area, residents of Waltham know the springtime weather will bring one of the biggest annual events in town: the fourth Watch City Festival, which celebrates all things steampunk.
The three-day event, typically held over Mother's Day weekend each year, drew tens of thousands of locals and steampunk fanatics - who usually don the flagship brass goggles, corsets, tiny hats, and dramatically-designed mechanical limbs - to celebrate the aesthetic movement that visualizes modern technology in the Victorian Era (think: The Prestige meets Iron Man).
The festival has served as a big-ticket fundraiser for the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation after the museum suffered $500,000 worth of damage in a 2010 spring flood. Museum officials said the money raised helps rebuild the museum's theater and office space.
Elln Hagney, executive director of the museum, said this year's festival - which will feature a circus, dozens of vendors, museum displays, pub crawls, and musical and theatrical performances, among other events - also coincides with the 200th anniversary of the first mill created by Francis Cabot Lowell, who is dubbed the father of the Industrial Revolution and established his manufacturing company in Waltham.
“Steampunk blends the Victorian past with modern technology. There is no other city in the country that fits this description better than Waltham," Hagney said. "It is a city steeped in our national innovative past, yet today corporations citywide are creating the technology we will use in future."
Last year, the event drew 17,000 people. Hagney said if the nice weather holds up, she wouldn't be surprised at a turnout of 20,000-plus this year. The museum is hoping to use funds raised from this weekend's festival to finish the final phase of their flood rebuilding plan, which includes a new exhibit on Lowell and manufacturing, as well as a new reception area and gift shop, Hagney said.
The event has historically blended the city's businesses, storefronts, and institutions into a landscape that imagines a world where steampunk has come alive. Steampunkers in gowns and top hats clink beers in local pubs; people clad in brass goggles chow down in local restaurants; and other stores and businesses host various events throughout the weekend.
This year, to commemorate the anniversary of Lowell's mill, the museum will honor the historic Waltham man with special lectures, films, tours, and a re-enactor.
This year's event also features Evan Michelson and Mike Zohn, co-owners of Obscura Antiques in Manhattan and stars of the Discovery Channel’s hit show “Oddities," organizers said. The two will hold lectures on steampunk culture and host a show-and-tell panel, organizers said.
The festival this year will also feature a "Steampunk After Dark" event Saturday evening, kicking off with a circus at 6:30 p.m., and then turning into a 21-plus event at 9:30 p.m. with wine and more performances.
“I think what I am most proud of is that we have created an event for everyone; whether you are steampunk or not, there is something for you to do and enjoy for very little money," Hagney said.
While some parts of the festival are free, others require a button for admission. Buttons cost $20 for adults and $10 for children, and are valid for the whole weekend. Some events, like the circus, might cost additional money.
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org