Broken clocks are getting hard to find in this part of the country. At least that's what a Santa Claus archetype who introduced himself as Professor William Whatley told me, shortly after the clouds exploded.

Let's not get all trend-mongerish and say steampunk — an atavistic counterculture loosely based on Victorian-era fashion sensibilities and the sci-fi of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne — is "blowing up." However, that's pretty much what happened within the confines of Waltham during the citywide, weekend-long International Steampunk City fest of crafts, music, and all things steam.

SLIDESHOW: "Photos: International Steampunk City Festival at the Charles River Museum" by Ryan McMahon

Though on-and-off rain hampered Saturday's gala, it also made a blacksmithing demonstration on the common interesting. "When my anvil gets wet, and I put the iron down on it, I get steam!" said a tirelessly optimistic forger. Luckily, the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation, a mecca of curious gadgets and artifacts, makes a fascinating haven from shitty weather. Among its exhibits: a pinball machine resembling an early electricity experiment, badass airship models, the most impractical and massive typewriter ever (probably), and lots of antique time devices.

Watching the normals interact with the top hat, goggles, and corsets crowd — many of whom indulged photo ops not unlike Disney World characters — made me wonder if steampunk could be on its way to losing its insularity. Will plastic, factory-made steampunk laser guns soon be available at Wal-Mart?

Doubtful. Saturday hit its apex of animation when recurrent steam-event performers Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band busted out John Williams's "Cantina Band." To add to the lengthy list of possible definitions for steampunk, I declare it a Star Wars dance party in an Industrial Revolution museum. That is, it's probably too baffling to become much more popular than it already is.

Barry Thompson can be reached at

Related: Photos: International Steampunk City Festival at the Charles River Museum, Steampunk and Lima Beans, Sound Session lives on, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , John Williams, Jules Verne, Steampunk,  More more >
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