Steampunk inspiration and resources


I Had a Blast at the First of Motor City Steam Con’s ‘Victorian Salons’

When you’re a vagabond like me, it can be really hard to meet new people and make friends. Being a Steampunk, I’ve already got a tribe, it’s just a matter of finding them!


Luckily for me, the Midwest seems to be a hotbed of Steampunk activity. This past summer, the first Motor City Steam Convention was held in Detroit and the active and friendly community in Michigan decided to take it one step farther this weekend. Folks gathered together Saturday night to enjoy a Victorian style salon, an event that organizer Salathiel Palland told me should become a regular event if all goes well.

nr1My partner in crime for the evening was my sister-in-law, and we arrived a little late for the festivities so we didn’t get in on the initial mingle. Good thing there was plenty of time between activities and at the end to schmooze. The first talk by Shetan Noir about a bit of local folklore was already going when we arrived, but we still got to learn about a creature called The Nain Rouge (Red Dwarf) that is either an early warning system, or actually responsible for any number of disasters in Detroit’s storied past.


Next up, we enjoyed a musical interlude by Richard Harper. He chose a few songs that people at a salon really would have heard during the steam era, and did a great job of giving us background behind the composers and the individual pieces. Not to mention the performance itself, which was awesome and perfectly suited to the occasion.

And the night just got better as Chris Gregurich and his lovely assistant (a mustachioed cowboy whose spurs jingled delightfully as he was being gently twisted and knocked around for our benefit) gave us a little lesson in bartitsu. For the uninitiated, this was a pretty vicious fighting style developed in an era when guns and swords were outlawed in the city, but every gentleman had a cane. But don’t take it from me! I took some videos (sorry about the quality…). You can also find out more about the many different kinds of trainings they offer at the Capital City Martial Arts website.

img_0064Ted and Kate Jauw finished out the evening with one of my favorite things, a lecture about booze! I’d had the Sazerac cocktail on my to do list for Booze Glorious Booze for a while, and I got the skinny on every ingredient in the drink. Glad I didn’t bother with boring old internet research! You can count on seeing a post dedicated to this lovely drink later this month. Thanks Ted!


One of the ingredients in a Sazerac is absinthe, and Kate’s family actually makes their own. Both Ted and Kate discussed the role of alcohol in remedies by herbalists, and the anti-pagan pathos that led to the well-known assertion that the wormwood in absinthe would drive you mad. Everyone got a chance to sip their own little glass of extract of absinthe and it was a delectable anise-y treat to cap off the evening.


I can’t wait for the next one!


Booze, Glorious Booze: The Aviator

3579cf1bf2f126c8bb3b306d202a6cf4This yummy little concoction, either called ‘Aviation’ or ‘The Aviator’ depending on the source, is as pretty as it is tasty, though you probably don’t have the ingredients on hand.

The name comes from the distinctive “sunset” look you get from the purple cocktail and the deep red of authentic maraschino-soaked cherries. No, not those weird sugary things you used to get in your Shirley Temple that are made by brining the fruit, but a delightful burst of dark cherry flavor laced with a kick of maraschino liqueur.


The other special ingredient you won’t find in your average home bar is crème de violette. Flower-flavored liqueurs were all the rage during the steam era, but fell out of favor somewhere in the 20th century about the same time that floral breath mints gave way to mint ones. Crème de violette could still be found in France and sometimes in the formerly French-occupied areas of the American South, but for the most part it became almost impossible to acquire for several decades. In 2007, an entrepreneur named Hans Alpenz started to import the liqueur to the US, and the recipe for Aviation was dusted off in high-end bars all over the country.

If you get technical, this exact cocktail wasn’t recorded for the first time until 1917, so most precisely it’s a drink that could possibly show up in Dieselpunk setting more than a Steampunk one. Still, crème de violette was definitely popular during the steam era, and the Victorians were no strangers to manned flight, so I think it deserves a home here in my Booze, Glorious Booze series.

Bottoms up 🙂



The History of Labor Day

I was at a funeral this past Monday so I didn’t post anything, but it made me wonder about the origin of Labor Day in general. I borrowed this excerpt from the US Department of Labor’s website. You can read the full article here.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

A Nationwide Holiday

Women's Auxiliary Typographical UnionThe form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.

The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.

Booze, Glorious Booze: Absinthe

absinthe_robette_poster“The green fairy” first twinkled into existence in 1792 in the hands of a French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire (yep, his name was basically Pete Normalguy but with a better accent). He was looking for a delivery method for wormwood, which at the time was thought to have healing effects. By 1797, Ordinaire sold his recipe to a Swiss father and son team, who eventually moved production to Pontarlier, France in 1805. Absinthe production rose to as high as 400 liters a day over the following decades and mostly in service to a growing demand by elite imbibers, but this was nothing compared to the demand create by the “absinthe fever” that took over mid-century Bohemia.

absinthe_edouard_pernot.htmDuring the 1850’s, many artists and writers turned to this spirited spirit to find their muse, and by the 1870’s people from all walks of life were drinking it. In addition to being a jolly good time, absinthe was also used to fight off bacterial infections. In those days the water quality for the average French urbanite was very bad, and people added alcohol in order to “purify” before drinking. Believe it or not, wine was actually more expensive than absinthe, so many poor people saw it is the economical choice. Adding water to absinthe also has the strange effect of making it cloudy, so absinthe-water would be a delightfully minty green color.

One American city started a long-lasting relationship with absinthe as well. New Orleans embraced the green fairy as early as 1869, and within a few years was known as the “Absinthe Capital of America.” Special absinthe cocktail lounges opened all over the city, and local brands like The Green Opal and Legendre were born. At a bar called The Absinthe Room, the owner installed a special fountain that dripped the diluted alcohol over lumps of sugar and into waiting glasses. These lounges attracted several notable end of century figures such as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde.

If you didn't have a fountain, you could put sugar on a special spoon and drip water through it to achieve the same effect

If you didn’t have a fountain, you could put sugar on a special spoon and drip water through it to achieve the same effect

While something that calls itself absinthe is available in the US, the truth is that it’s missing the special ingredient: wormwood. Though many European countries do not restrict its sale, the original recipe for absinthe is considered toxic by the FDA. I tried some old world absinthe during my travels and I didn’t think it was all the special, personally. Maybe I needed to be drinking alone and staring at a canvas or something, but my muse was pretty mute. Absinthe tastes very strongly of anise, so if you aren’t a black licorice fan I’d stay steer clear.

Have you ever had a run-in with the green fairy? Leave a comment below!


I Can’t Be the Only One who Wonders How Victorian Women Used the Toilet…

Using the bathroom is hard enough in my Steampunky tu-tu, but I couldn’t imagine how someone would do it in a full on bustle. Luckily, when I was looking into just that question, YouTube came through 🙂

Hat’s Off to the Flight Cap

I don’t have any kids yet, but I already have plans to dress my future children in a variety of silly outfits. And no, I don’t just mean Halloween, I mean as long as possible before they catch on. Because let’s face it, shrinking down just about anything, making it really soft, and putting it on some unsuspecting kid is just about as adorable as it gets. Take flight caps, for instance. If I see a kid in a tiny aviation outfit I can’t help but squeeeee with joy. Like this kid. Am I right?


Of course I am. 🙂

But where did these iconic caps come from? It turns out they have been a part of aviation since aviation was just a baby.

When the Wright Brothers made their famous first flight in 1903, Orville was definitely wearing a hat. No man of that era would be caught outside without one. On that day, he wore something akin to a page boy cap, but of course flying is a windy occupation and it was basically impossible to keep a regular hat in place. Plus, the pilot’s ears would get cold as the plane climbed and they needed protection.

By 1908,  Wilbur had a brand new hat that quickly became a sensation, not just for people in flight, but also in Parisian fashion. The tight-fitting but soft leather cap (though not the goggles yet) was nicknamed the “Vilbur” and was popular for a short time among young men and boys. Soon after, aviator Louis Bleriot crossed the English Channel, and he added the goggles to protect his eyes from oil and other debris. And you can bet Amelia Earhart got into the action, with her custom-made white cap to match her white flying jacket.

Amelia from Dan Patterson collection

So there you have it. The flight cap and the goggles that we all know and love to wear as part of our Steampunk ensembles grew up alongside the airplane from the very start. I picked up a WWII aviation cap while I was in Bulgaria and wear it with a purple ad black tutu-bustle. Not the least bit accurate, but it sure is a comfy hat!

Here are a few other examples of Steampunk flight caps. Enjoy!

The History of Candy

VioletLifeSaverscandyvintageadI was trying to find some information about when violet candies first became popular, and I came across a fabulous resource at Just like the foods steam-era folks ate and the drinks they imbibed, you can bet that the type of candy they had available would be another historical detail a Steampunk enthusiast might need to know. This is just the first part of the timeline, but you can see the full history of candy here.


  • Necco Wafer is born.
  • 1848  John Curtis produces the first branded chewing gum, made from tree sap, called The State of Maine Spruce Gum
  • 1854  The first packaged box of Whitman’s Chocolate hits the scene
  • 1868  Richard & George Cadbury, the second generation of Cadburys, makes the first Valentine’s Day box of chocolates starting the tradition that continues today
  • 1879  William H. Thompson creates Thompson Chocolate with the stated goal to “make only quality products”
  • 1880s Wunderle Candy Company creates candy corn, still a best-selling Hallween candy
  • 1890  The Piedmont Candy Company, manufacturer of Red Bird Peppermint Puffs, is founded in Lexington, North Carolina
  • 1891  Claus Doscher opens Doscher Brothers Confections and a few years later, after tasting taffy in France, the company introduces the famed French Chews
  • 1893  Milton Hershey attends the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago and watches chocolate being manufactured. Impressed, he purchases the new manufacturing equipment at great expense and has it shipped from Germany to his factory in Pennsylvania
  • 1893  William Wrigley, Jr. introduces Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum and Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum
  • 1893  Thomas Richardson, creator of Richardson Brands, introduces Pastel Mints at a department store in Philadelphia, PA
  • 1894  Milton Hershey creates what is known as the first “American” candy bar, although his famous Milk Chocolate Bar won’t be invented for a few more years
  • 1896  Leo Hirshfield, New York confectioner, introduces Tootsie Rolls, named after his daughter’s nickname, “Tootsie.” Learn more about this longtime favorite here.
  • 1890  Legend has it that an unnamed  Southern lady was making taffy but added the wrong ingredient resulting in the first batch of Peanut Brittle
  • 1899  The Jenner Manufacturing company is created. The name changes to Judson Atkinson 45 years later


  • 1900  A very important year as Milton Hershey introduces a variation of what will eventually become the  Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.
  • 1900  Clark Gum Company introduces Teaberry Gum.  Find out what flavor it tastes like and the dance craze it inspired here.
  • 1901  The King Leo pure peppermint stick candy is developed
  • 1901  Multicolored candy disks called NECCO Wafers first appear. The name stands for New England Confectionery Company
  • 1902  New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) makes the first Conversation Hearts which are still a thriving Valentine’s tradition
  • 1904  Emil Brach starts Brach’s Candy, his second attempt at the candy business.  The first product was Wrapped Caramels which sold for $.20 a pound
  • 1905  The Squirrel Brand Company of Massachusetts creates the first peanut bar known as the Squirrel Nut Zipper. It was, sadly, discontinued in the late 1980’s, but resurrected in the 1990’s
  • 1905  Flush with the success of their Conversation Hearts, New England Confectionary Company introduces another classic peanut butter candy called Peach Blossoms
  • 1906  Spangler Manufacturing Company, know now as Spangler Candy, is created. The company got its start manufacturing baking soda products, but added candy to their repertoire in 1908
  • 1906  Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Kisses appear in the iconic silver foil wrapping and a town in Pennsylvania called Derry Church changes its name to Hershey
  • 1906 The American Chicle Company introduces Chiclets, the candy coated gum that uses chicle inside.  To learn what exactly is chicle and where it comes from, click here.
  • 1907  After the great success of the Milk Chocolate Bar, Hershey introduces the beloved Hershey’s Kisses. The original Hershey’s Kiss were called Silvertops and sold as individual units (this first incarnation was discontinued in 1931)
  • 1908  Hershey’s adds almonds to its already famous Milk Chocolate Bar
  • 1908  Theodor Tobler and his cousin Emil Baumann invent a delicious Swiss Milk Chocolate and Honey and Nougat infused candy bar called Toblerone.

Where to Find “Steam Era” Military Uniform Images…

You may remember that during the month of February FWtGT celebrated all types of makers, and I gave you some digital resources like the New York Public Library. I have a great example today of a way to use digital collections like that one. Military cosplay is common in the world of Steampunk, which makes perfect sense given all the airship captains and officers fighting in India during the 1800’s. So if you are looking for some reference material, look no farther than the NYPL! I included just a sampling below, but there must be at least two dozen lithographs of uniforms from all over the world in the 1890’s. Enjoy!

Have you found any great stuff using the resources I recommended? Tell me about it in the comments!