Steampunk inspiration and resources

Travel

Join me for the Edwardian Ball Mar. 25 in New Orleans

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As an Editor for Steampunk Journal, I’ve been offered the chance to report on the Edwardian Ball charity event in New Orleans. The Edward Gorey Trust has been holding a fantastic Steampunk event in California for years, but for the first time they’ve expanded into a brand new city.

I am desperate to go and report on the event and bring you exclusive photos and stories, but New Orleans is a long way away. The Steampunk Journal is driven by passion, not money, so I have to pay my own way, and with the short notice cheap plane tickets are out of the question. I need the support of my fellow Steampunks if I’m going to make it, so I’ve created a small Kickstarter campaign to help me pay for the transportation (room and board will still be paid out of my own pocket). Visit the campaign page.

Here’s a taste of what’s to come!

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I am offering early content, extra content, postcards, prints, and discounted advertising on Steampunk Journal to support the campaign. If we reach my stretch goal of $1000, I’ll be able to upgrade my hardware and LIVESTREAM FROM THE EVENT!

Find out more


Steampunk Sourcebook: “Egyptomania”

job-napoleon-in-egyptThe love affair of Western Europe with ancient Egypt can be traced to Napoleon’s invasion of Alexandria in 1798. Until starting to research this topic, I had always thought of the French mission to Egypt as an “expedition” but in truth it was a military maneuver aimed at weakening British control of the Mediterranean Sea and cutting them off from their Indian colonies. If Napoleon’s forces had only contained soldiers, we may never have become so enchanted with the ancients, but he also brought engineers, scientists and cultural historians to document and describe what they found. By July 21, 1798, the French troops had reached the Great Pyramids and driven the Egyptian military into Syria.

Within a year the British retaliated by systematically destroying Napoleon’s ships in The Battle of the Nile and the local population revolted against their new French overseers. The Egyptian uprising in Cairo was quashed, but people all over Egypt were taking up arms against “the stubborn infidels and unbridled rascals.” Also, the Ottomans in Constantinople got wind of France’s defeat at sea and saw it as an opportunity to strike another blow. When the Ottoman forces were discovered only 10 miles over the Syrian border, Napoleon attacked, and his forces were eventually repelled out of Egypt on February 5, 1799. They returned for a brief time four months later, but Bonaparte eventually left Egypt for good in August of the same year to save face.

Even though their time in Egypt was short, France left the situation far from empty-handed. The savants in Napoleon’s employ conducted meticulous surveys of animals, plants, topography, local industry, and trades. Their exploration led them to discover ancient and forgotten burial grounds and temples at Luxor, Philae, and the Valley of the Kings. Everything about these sites were measured and recorded (not to mention looted) for posterity. Even with only a year to collect data and objects, the savants had gathered enough materials to publish a 23-volume reference book, called Description de l’Egypte between, 1809 and 1828.

Rosetta_Stone_International_Congress_of_Orientalists_ILN_1874The unearthing of the Rosetta Stone, probably the most notable archaeological discovery in history, occurred only a month before the French retreat, but like so many of the objects they collected, it fell into British hands and never reached France. This stone, which is now on display in the British Museum, contained the same passage in three different languages, unlocking our ability to translate ancient texts.

Britain would eventually occupy and control Egypt starting in 1882, but Egyptomania gripped the general public long before. Many sources point to a special event in 1821 as the real spark that ignited the British public’s imagination at large. At a theater near Piccadilly, a mummy unwrapping was held for the general public. A few years later, Jane Webb wrote The Mummy, A Tale of 22nd Century, which is not only the first mummy story in Western literature, but also one of the first science fiction stories penned by a woman. Several notable authors embraced the trend and the genre exploded (see list of books below).

This obelisk was installed in 1878

This obelisk was installed in 1878

Even before the British occupation, they were on friendly terms with the Ottoman occupiers and exported many incredible pieces of Egyptian artwork. To Western eyes, these treasures had been “abandoned” and needed a big brother type “custodian” to take care of them because it was obviously beyond the local population to do so. The British Museum is one of the best places in the entire world to view Egyptian artefacts as a result.

Egyptomania didn’t confine itself only to museums. While walking around London there is plenty of evidence of it still scattered around town. I noticed a very high concentration while strolling along the Queen’s Walk, which follows the Thames. Right next to the river there is an obelisk flanked by lordly lions, and if you need to rest your feet you can avail yourself of the benches that line the walk and are supported by cast iron camels.

Camel benches along the Thames

Camel benches along the Thames

19th and early 20th Century Books and Short Stories

  • The Mummy, A Tale of 22nd Century, novel, Jane Webb, 1827
  • “Some Words with a Mummy,” short satirical story, Edgar Allen Poe, 1845
  • “The Mummy’s Foot,” short story, Theophile Gautier, 1863
  • “Lost in a Pyramid: The Mummy’s Curse,” short horror story, Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), 1869
  • “The Ring of Thoth,” short story, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), 1890
  • “Lot 249,” short story, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), 1892
  • The Beetle, novel, Richard Marsh, 1897
  • The Jewel of the Seven Stars, novel, Bram Stoker, 1903
  • Smith and the Pharaohs, novella, H. Rider Haggard, 1913
  • “Under the Pyramids,” (aka “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs”) short story featuring Harry Houdini as the protagonist, H. P. Lovecraft, 1924
  • The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, novel, Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot), 1924
  • The Vengeance of Nitrocris, novel, Thomas Lanier (aka Tennessee Williams), 1928

Contemporary and Steampunk Books (1975-2014)

  • Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters
  • Kythan Guardians series by Trisha Wolfe
  • The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (Les Aventures extraodrinaires d’Adele Blanc-Sec), comic book, written and illustrated by Jacques Tardi, 1976
  • Colonel Stonesteel’s Genuine Homemade Truly Egyptian Mummy, novel, Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451), 1981
  • The Anubis Gates, novel, Tim Powers, 1983
  • Bubba-ho-tep, novella, Joe R. Lansdale, 1994
  • Seven Stars, novella inspired by Conan Doyle’s Jewel of the Seven Stars, Kim Newman, 2000
  • The Osiris Ritual, Newbury and Hobbes #4, George Mann, 2009
  • As Timeless as Stone (2010) and As Timeless as Magic (2012), novels, Maeve Alpin
  • Timeless, Parasol Protectorate #5, Gail Carriger, 2012

Other Media

  • “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” (1971) and “Dr. Phibes Rises Again” (1972), movies (technically Dieselpunk set in the 1920s)
  • “The Mummy Returns,” movie, 2001. The sequel to 1999’s “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser. Though both films would technically be best called Dieselpunk, “The Mummy Returns” features a super cool dirigible that is very Steampunk.
  • “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec,” movie, 2010

The Italian Garden, London

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Originally, the Kensington Gardens were part of the grounds of the Kensington Palace, the birthplace of Queen Victoria. During her reign her husband, Albert, commissioned the lovely Italian Gardens as a gift to his beloved and work was completed in 1860. Albert was an avid gardener and was entranced by the Italian-style water garden composed of ponds, terraces and raised beds along a geometric plan. This relaxing site sits on the Long Water, a river that runs into The Serpentine lake, so it is a nice place to spot birds and enjoy native water plants such as water lilies. After Albert’s death, Victoria had the Albert Memorial built on the south side of the Kensington Gardens.


Hyde Park

Hyde ParkThere are eight Royal Parks in London, and this one dates back to the 1500s. Over time, different monarchs, architects, and gardeners have changed the landscape from a prime place to hunt deer to a sprawling grassy knoll perfect for picnics. It’s an appropriate site for “steam tourism” because the Great Exhibition was held on its grounds in 1851. There is nothing left of the Crystal Palace today, but this green respite is still a very nice place to visit.

Victorian_Mobs_RiotsIf you are there on a Sunday and you stop by Speaker’s Corner on the north-east side of the park, you may still see people exercising their right to free speech on the same spot that has seen countless protests and demonstrations, including several advocating for the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the early 1900s. The Kensington Gardens used to be part of Hyde Park, but today they are considered separate entities due to a road that was built in the 1820s.


“Big Ben” and the House of Parliament

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The House of Parliament and its iconic clock tower date to 1844 and were built after the original building was destroyed by a fire in 1834. Although today we know the tower as “Big Ben,” this is technically the name given to the huge bell that accompanies the world’s largest four-sided clock. The tower has officially been known as the Elizabeth Tower since 2012 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, and prior to that was simply The Clock Tower.

However, during Victorian times journalists often referred to it as St Stephen’s tower because Members of Parliament (MPs) held their proceedings in St Stephen’s hall. In fact, there is a St. Stephen’s tower on the Westminster premise, but it is much smaller than the clock tower, which is the third tallest in the world. While you can tour the House of Parliament, the tower itself is off-limits unless you are a British citizen with express permission from an MP.


The Science Museum, London

Science Museum 1This is definitely a must-see attraction for any Steampunk visiting London. The first exhibit you come to is called Energy Hall and features full-size steam engines and has interactive features that show you the physics of how they work and give the history of how they fit into the evolution of steam technology as a whole.

But, the absolute best exhibit hall is Making the Modern world. It offers a veritable cornucopia of amazing inventions, including Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 1 and a working model of a Victorian-era workshop run on a belt system.

 

Like the Museum of London, I would definitely recommend this as a great place to take people with mixed interests because the museum also has exhibits on the history of agriculture, real objects used in the early days of space travel and a “4D” cinema that has films on a wide range of topics.

 


The Museum of London

This institution has two different locations, but I only got a chance to make it to the one just north of the Millennium Bridge. (the other is at the seafront and focuses on the history of the docklands and shipping industry). The city of London has a very long history, so there is lots to see that doesn’t fit into my Steampunk theme, which can make it ideal for entertaining a group with varied interests. I loved the open format of the exhibits that allows visitors to meander through history, including one of the best displays on the everyday life during the Roman Empire that my Historian hubby has ever seen.

From the Pleasure Garden exhibit at the Museum of London

From the Pleasure Garden exhibit at the Museum of London

On the steamy side, there is tons to see. There was an amazing immersive exhibit about pleasure gardens like those that became popular during the 1800s. The darkened space features really cool period clothes, and videos that appear on the walls featuring people wearing them and acting out scenes. The mannequins are also sculptures in their own right and are lit according to what is being shown on the walls. The low light made it difficult to capture with a camera, especially because I didn’t want a flash to ruin the experience for other visitors, but trust me when I tell you it was captivating.

There is also a series of Victorian storefronts that you can walk through that are chockfull of period-appropriate merchandise and props. There is a big-wheel bike out in the open if you want a picture with one.

I also liked the displays of shoes, watches, and other technology that were strewn around in some of the other period sections. The exhibit on the suffrage movement was extremely well done, though I was shocked by a lot of what I saw. I had no idea how violent the pursuit of voting rights became in Britain. All in all, it is a wonderful museum with free admission and worth a whole day’s visit.


Steampunk Sourcebook: Jack the Ripper

On display at the Museum of London

On display at the Museum of London

Jack the Ripper is the world’s most famous serial killer, both because of the brutality of the murders and the fact that the crimes are still unsolved. I have seen many Steampunk works make reference to the Whitechapel Murders as a means of situating their stories in time, as well as Jack appearing as a character in movies and books. But with so many interpretations floating around, it can be hard to keep the facts straight, so here is a cheat sheet to help you get it right.

(I went on a Jack the Ripper tour while I was in London for my Steam Tour research and you can read about it here.)

The Murders

  • In 1888 there were a string of murders in the Whitechapel District of London. Due to the similarities between the victims, modus of the murders, and the proximity of the crimes they were attributed to the same killer. There are five women who are generally accepted as victims of the same serial killer, but there easily could have been more murders that were never discovered, or there could have been more than one murderer.
    • Murder #1: Mary Ann Nichols, killed sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. on August 30, 1888. She was an alcoholic, which led to her separation from her husband in 1882 and her inability to keep any other job than prostitute. Her throat was cut and her abdomen was mutilated.
    • Murder #2: Annie “Dark Annie” Chapman, killed at approximately 5:30 a.m. on September 8, 1888. After the death of one of her children by meningitis, she and her husband both became heavy drinkers and separated in 1884. Her husband was required by law to provide for her welfare, but he died in 1886 from alcohol poisoning. She tried to support herself through crocheting and selling flowers, but was also involved in prostitution.
    • Murder #3: Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride, killed sometime between 12:35 and 1:00 a.m. on September 30, 1888. Her throat was cut and her abdomen was mutilated. The postmortem doctor identified the weapon as a thin knife blade, approximately 6-8 inches in length. Like the other victims she and her husband separated, but she was a prostitute before and after her marriage fell apart. She spoke Yiddish and Swedish in addition to English.
    • Murder #4: Catherine Eddowes (aka Kate Conway and Kate Kelly), killed a few hours after Elizabeth Stride on September 30, 1888. She left her first common-law husband, Thomas Conway, and her three children in 1880. Later, she took up with John Kelly and they lived together in a lodging house on Flower Street. The night of her death she was arrested for drunkenness and held at the Bishopsgate police station until approximately 1:30 a.m. Within minutes she was killed on her way home. Her face and her abdomen were mutilated, and a piece of her ear as well as her kidney was taken by the killer.
    • Murder #5: Mary Jane “Fair Emma” Kelly (aka “Ginger” and “Black Mary”) was killed November 9, 1888. It is believed that the increase in police patrols accounts for the lag between the deaths of Eddowes and Kelly. Her origin is less well-documented than the other victims, but sources say she was the widow of a coal miner with the surname Davies who died in an explosion around 1881. Like the other victims, she was a drinker and reportedly sang Irish songs while enjoying her gin, so it is believed she hailed from Ireland. Unlike the other victims, she was found murdered in her home around 10:45 a.m. and the time of death was set at between 6 and 8 a.m. that morning. Her body was extensively mutilated, the coroner believed the murderer took more than two hours to complete his task.
  • During press coverage, the killer was most often referred to as “The Whitechapel Murderer” or “Leather Apron” because of the aprons worn by butchers. The name “Jack” became connected to the murders after letters began to arrive at news outlets and signed by that name.
  • The five canonized Ripper killings occurred between August and November of 1888, but police continued to investigate a total of 11 murders that they suspected were linked up until 1891.

The Suspects

  • Historians and hobbyists alike have speculated over the identity of The Ripper, and some sources say as many as 500 different people (including at least one woman) have come under suspicion. Many of these people were not suspects during the actual investigation and that is far too many to talk about here to I will only highlight the most well-known and/or plausible.
  • According to some, Jack’s identity was already discovered in 2014—or was it? A silk shawl that supposedly belonged to one of the victims underwent DNA testing starting in 2007. In 2014, a book by Russell Edwards detailed the findings of scientist Jari Louhelainen, who claims to have definitive evidence that identifies Aaron Kominski as the notorious murderer.  Kominski came under suspicion in 1888 at the age of 23 and died in a mental institution 30 years later. Unfortunately, Louhelainen made at least two major errors in his analysis that were brought to light in October 2014, rendering the conclusions useless. The search continues.
  • Others think that the Jack the Ripper conspiracy went all the way to the highest levels of government. Spoiler alert! In the 2001 Johnny Depp flick called “From Hell,” Jack is in fact Prince Edward “Eddy” Victor, aka “grandson” to queen Victoria. According to the theory, Eddy impregnated a low-class girl (and a Catholic no less!) and to avoid the scandal, the queen ordered the matter be “taken care of.” Annie Crook and her royal offspring are spirited away by the royal physician, John Gull, but her friends like Mary Kelly are making too much noise about the disappearance and must be silenced. The serial killer who hates prostitutes is created to cover the real scandal and claims many victims.
  • Others actually suspect John Gull himself as the murderer because of the precision of the cuts made to the victims and the fact that Jack was never caught points to some kind of conspiracy in the minds of many enthusiasts.
  • One of the more likely suspects is Seweryn Klosowski (aka George Chapman), a Polish-born Jew who had only been in Whitechapel a short time before the murders began. In 1903 he was convicted on three counts of murder and hanged for killing his wives. This would seem to make him a very good suspect indeed, but he killed his known victims with poison, not brutality, and serial murderers rarely change their modus operandi.
  • John Pizer was arrested in 1888 for the murders, but was later let go because he had alibis (including talking to a policeman) during two of the five canonical murders. The Sergeant who arrested him, William Thicke, allegedly had personal animosity against Pizer and no evidence whatsoever. Pizer sought reparations from at least one of the news outlets that reported he was the murderer. Thicke was later accused as being The Ripper in a letter sent to The Home Office, but this was likely a hoax and was never followed up on by the authorities.

batman-gotham-by-gaslight-000Jack the Ripper in Literature

  • Gotham by Gaslight (1989) pits Jack against Batman in Gotham City.
  • In the Steampunk Chronicles series by Kady Cross, Jack is a character.
  • Ripper (2012), by Stefan Petrucha, follows the quest of young man from New York City to find his father in London, but instead finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation.
  • Ripper (2012), by Amy Carol Reeves, is about a young woman who is volunteering at a Whitechapel hospital and has visions of the Ripper’s murders before they happen.

PosterJack the Ripper in Other Media

  • Ripper Street” is a BBC show about rebuilding Whitechapel in the wake of the Ripper killings. It began in 2012 and the third season is airing as of now (January 2015). (Review coming soon!)
  • Time After Time” (1979) Jack the Ripper uses H. G. Wells time machine to escape his own time and is pursued by Wells to San Francisco, CA.
  • From Hell” (2001) Johnny Depp and Heather Graham star in this film that takes its name from one of the famous Ripper letters that were sent to the press.
  • Progress” is a webseries that operates in an alternative Victorian London where there is already a steam-powered internet. You can watch the first three episodes for free at progresstheseries.com.
  • A game for Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows entitled “Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper” was released in 2009.

SH vs JtR game

Did I miss and Ripper references, books or movies you know? Please leave a comment so I can add to my list!