At Steampunk Festival, 'you can be what you want to be'

Elliot Carter, 11, inspects a pair of aviators goggles while shopping at the Big River Steampunk Festival in Hannibal, Mo., on Saturday, Sep. 1, 2018. In addition to events and contests during the festival, Steampunk shops were setup. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 1, 2018 10:35 pm Updated: Sep. 1, 2018 10:48 pm

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- When asked, Jaime Peterson needed to pause and sort through her thoughts before trying to describe "steampunk" to an outsider.

"It's like a different world, where you can create a fake lifestyle and where you can be what you want to be," she said.

Jaime Peterson, 31, and her sister, Jordan Peterson, 29, residents of Chattanooga, Tenn., were two of the thousands on hand this weekend for the fifth annual Big River Steampunk Festival on Hannibal's downtown streets near the Mississippi River.

The steampunk concept itself is headquartered in the Victorian period, with subgenres tied to science fiction, "Star Wars," "Dr. Who" and even Disney.

Period costumes, adapted to fit those specific genres, are the heart of steampunk and what drives its participants.

"We've been doing steampunk for a couple of years as vendors," Jaime Peterson said. "I really love the combination of industrial and fantasy, being able to create something new from a fantasy (concept)."

Jordan Peterson agrees.

"There's a lot of different crossovers," she said. "You can steampunk anything."

The Peterson sisters have attended steampunk gatherings in Massachusetts, Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Maine.

The festival in Hannibal runs through Monday and is sponsored by the Hannibal History Museum Foundation.

Each Labor Day weekend, the free festival features events, workshops, seminars, contests, vendors, live entertainment and other activities that center around steampunk and the Victorian era. There are some premium events that require tickets, but most activities during the weekend are free.

About 8,000 people attended the 2017 festival, and this year's count will probably rival or top that number.

Aidan Mittleberg, 16, journeyed six hours from western Kentukcy to attend his first steampunk gathering.

"It's kind of like Comic-Con, except that it's based on the Victorian period and never really happened," Mittleberg said. "This is the first event like this I have been to, but I'll be going to more."

The festival held a special kind of appeal for Evie Conrad of LaGrange, Mo., who was taking in the sights and sounds with her sister-in-law, Nadyne Conrad, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"I drove 3 1/2 hours to be here," Nadyne Conrad said.

For Evie Conrad, this weekend rekindled her interest in steampunk.

"I was also here (in 2016), and I love it," Evie Conrad said. "I grew up in the late 1960s and this reminds me of the old TV show, ‘The Wild Wild West' (which starred Robert Conrad -- no relation to Evie or Nadyne -- and Ross Martin)."

And well it should.

The "Wild Wild West" emphasized the Victorian era time-frame and the use of Jules Verne-esque technology that some feel gave birth to the steampunk movement years later.