Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Just a random tidbit of a short film, completely unrelated to neo-Victorianism.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

"poetry brothels" making a hit a la victoriana

image source: The Chicago Poetry Brothel
Who has ever heard of a poetry brothel?  Certainly not I.

So when my eyes fall upon the headline of a Gapers Block article called "Modern Poetry Goes Victorian: the Chicago Poetry Brothel," my interest level is more than just a little bit piqued.

What, exactly, is a poetry brothel? At the Chicago Poetry Brothel a poetry "Madam," her "poetry-whores," and a character known as the Good Doctor all work to peddle the goods of the poetry-whores" to the "depraved" audience:

After patrons get the chance to settle, Madam Black-eyed Susan introduces her poets with a few descriptive sentences about each, and each poet gets a chance to read a bit of their work to entice the crowd. Once everyone has gotten just a taste of the evening's finest lines, the poets mix and mingle with the crowd, peddling their poems, every so often taking the floor again to tease the patrons with more of their work. Because for a mere $5, you can purchase a token that gets you, not only the poetry whore of your choice, but an intimate reading with that poet, inside a velvet tent, complete with chairs, a table, and gold tassels. In this private space, the poet will recite anything the patron wants--be it the poet's own work or a poem the patron has in mind--on any topic. Being face-to-face and knee-to-knee with the poet is a very personal experience--ask the poet anything you want about the piece, ask for it to be read it again, ask pretty please for more than one poem.

I wonder if poets ever get nervous, reading to someone in such an intimate setting.  But Madam Black-eyed Susan has nothing but praise for this method of sharing poetry, as it allows for more honest feedback.

"A poetry brothel provides a unique poetry experience. While fundamentally, it's a poetry reading series, it's unlike other reading series in that it targets people who may not otherwise frequent canonical poetry readings, but still consider themselves patrons of the arts. At the Brothel this is achieved by maintaining two separate spaces: a parlor-like environment, where patrons enjoy burlesque acts, live musical performances and are able to chat with the poets or their friends and a separate space that one might regard as the poets' boudoir, where visitors experience private poetry readings with their chosen "poetry whore." During a private reading, patrons are free to stop the poet, ask questions about the meaning of a poem or to have parts re-read; something that would be impossible at a typical poetry reading! The atmosphere is both intimate and not intimidating or stuffy."

Burlesque shows, live music, and poets dressed as Victorians?  Why don't we have one of these in Pittsburgh?

*starting to think devious, neo-Victorian, writing-related thoughts*

Check out The Chicago Poetry Brothel's website here for more information on upcoming shows, poetry whore bios, and information on the colorful cast of characters that bring this artistic presentation to life.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

bringing the sharp-edged "sabre" to steampunk

image source: Comic Book Resources
Here's an new webcomic for all of you steampunk enthusiasts out there: Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether.

Updated twice a week, this webcomic was launched a little over one month ago by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett, who have worked on comics such as the Batman franchise in the past.

I've actually been following it since Day One, and although there are less than a half a dozen webpages up depicting Lady Sabre's exploits, thus far I am impressed.  It's pure swashbuckling adventurous fun, with guys in gas masks, corsets, an airship decorated in brass, and hidden handgun contraptions.

The story?  According to the website's About section, Lady Sabre's story is supposed to be all fun:

The adventures of the Lady Seneca Sabre and those she meets along the way as she travels the Sphere. Who she fights, who she foils, who she befriends. It’s about adventure and romance and excitement and, to paraphrase the great Zaphod Beeblebrox, “really wild things.”

image source: The Mary Sue
Watch out for new installments of this comic every Monday and Thursday at this link.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the mayhew files: thieves

This post is the last in Scott's series of guest posts on Mayhew's London, a nineteenth century account of life in London that focuses mostly on the lower classes of London.  We will conclude with the Victorian thief.

John Jarret, age 14
occupation: labouror
for maming a steer
sentenced 4 months hard labour
image source: habitat

Eliza Humphries, age 10
occupation: lacemaker
for stealing a book
sentenced 2 weeks hard labour, 3 years reformatory
image source: habitat
This section is great from a description point of view.  Some of the streets are described rather well, depicting what the street stalls would have sold as well as the dress of the young thieves that preyed on them.

Mayhew once again sets out to limit our inquiry to a certain number of set types of thieves.  The groups he gives are the sneaks, or common thieves, the burglars and the pickpockets.  He also describes, but does not name a fourth type.  These are the blackguards of the thieving world-- the murderers, the muggers and other types of generally hardened criminal.

He starts his description with the sneaks.  These were the lowest class of thieves neither possessing the dexterity and nimbleness of the pickpocket nor the dare and ingenuity of the burglar.  They did often posses a low cunning, we are told.

Most of the dodges these thieves performed are broken down into several categories as well.  Mayhew is so organized in this respect.

The first involved stealing from street stalls.  The minders of these stalls often flogged their wares for long hours.  At a certain point they would let their guard down.  The thieves would often either just run up to the stall and snatch what they can or they would push the minder off of his or her seat and then their buddies (sometimes as many as seven others, but more often two or three others) would swipe what loot they can.  These types of theft usually only applied to the cheaper fruit stands and such. 

For the upper market stalls the ruffians would have one of their number go up to examine the goods.  When the stall manager would tell them to buzz off they would refused.  The minder would then try to physically remove the boy at which point, while distracted, the other boys would zoom in and steal what they could.

Stealing from tills is the next section.  Usually this type of theft involved one boy throwing his cap into a store.  He then went in on hands and knees, allegedly to get his cap.  If the owner was not minding his business, the boy would dive into the till and plunder the contents.  If caught he could usually say he was just looking for his cap and get away, the lost money not being discovered until later.  This dodge could be accomplished solo but is often done in pairs.

Mayhew also covers stealing from the windows and doors of shops.  This seemed to be one of the most frequently occurring crimes of this type of thief.  Many people who were not full time thieves also engaged in this type of job.

What follows are descriptions of how to plunder shops in various ways.  One of the things that allowed these thieves to get away with this in broad daylight was the indifference of passers-by. They could not be bothered to stop the boys or even report it as they would end up having to become witnesses, for which they couldn't be bothered.

Generally the thieves work in the following way:

One of them would go up and finger the merchandise.  When the owner was not looking they would pocket it and move away.  If seen they would run, their compatriots either running interference or running in to steal additional items.  Depending on the plan, the original thief would either make off with the goods or drop them after a certain amount of time and flee, letting the owner pursuing them to pick up his wares.  When he came back the owner would then discover more items had been stolen while he was away.

One method of stealing from shop windows involved a boy taking a knife and placing it along the corner of a pane of glass in a shop window.  They he would hit the knife with a wrench, creating a semi-circular break in the glass.  To remove the glass the boy placed a piece of sticky plaster to the broken piece and pulled it out.  Reaching into the window, he grabbed all of the loot they could and run off.  (Here Scott says that he had thought this was done at night when no one was there but Mayhew alleges the boys were then chased by the store owner, so who knows?  You’d think he might notice someone doing all that stuff to his window before that person ran off with goods.)

Mayhew claims that it was often women who stole pieces of bacon or meat from shops.  They would then go and sell this meat elsewhere for as little as a quarter of the market price.  Mayhew says that this is often done by women who were fond of drink.  They were usually labourer’s wives who, when their husband was at work, went out all day drinking away the money they had for dinner.

When the time came for them to make the dinner they sobered up rapidly, realizing they have no money to buy meat.  So they stole a piece, sold a portion of it and took the smaller part home to cook for their husbands.  They then had more money to booze away the next day.

All of these thieves would have had a tough time of getting away with any of this if it were not for unlicenced pawnbrokers.  These people would either take goods that, by their high quality, were obviously stolen, or from people who were obviously thieves, as they were usually willing to dispose of goods at such a low price.  The broker more often than not quite happy to deal with such people as the return on such goods was quite high.

A lot of these thieves obtained their loot by stealing from children.  Children were often sent out by their mothers with loads of laundry to take to the laundress.  The thieves distracted these kids by various means, usually offering them sweets.  They then stole the laundry from the duped child (Note: Probably like Fight Club's Marla Singer stealing laundry from laundromats for extra cash).  In other cases they would ask the child where he was taking the load.  When the child responds the thief response that they were just coming from that exact location to pick up the laundry and they will take it back for them, or some version of this particular graft.

Children in the Victorian period were apparently robbed blind all the time.  Some old crones would lead them down alley ways and even steal their clothing.

Then of course there is the traditional crime of rolling drunks, or stealing from drunken persons.

Sometimes this involved just knocking over the drunk as he was staggering home and rifling through his pockets if he too drunk to even notice.  Or the thief would simply distract him while they picked his pockets.  At other times, however, two women would be employed in the plot.  They would run into a man who might only be slightly inebriated or perhaps not even drunk at all.  They asked if he would accompany them for a drink.  When he consented they took him to a public house they were familiar with, where generally a “stickman” familiar to them was hanging out.

They then got the man drunk and robbed him of his valuables while hanging on him.  They passed these goods off to the stickman in various ways so that if it was discovered that the man was missing his watch nothing would be discovered when he calls for the police and they search the women.  The women could then end the evening by feigning offence and storming off.

Robbing drunken females was usually the lot of other females who, in some cases, would offer to take them to somewhere safe or even back home.  They took these women by the hand and led them wherever, all the while slipping their rings off of their fingers so that when the drunk women got home she was quite denuded of jewelry.  Sometimes these women would take them to abandoned buildings or lodging houses of various (low) types, where the thieves would then steal the woman’s valuables and, in some cases, strip the women naked and leave her there.

The one that Scott understood least was the stealing of laundry left out to dry.  Apparently gangs of boys would case back yards by pretending to be playing in the street.  One boy would steal another’s cap and put it on top of a fence.  Another boy would then lift the boy up to get his cap and while up there they would check out if there was any laundry in the back yard drying.  They would then come back at night to steal it.  This could be sold at any of the disreputable pawn brokers mentioned above. Sometimes this laundry is monogrammed and the mark has to be removed before it is sold.

The thing that does not make sense to Scott is that it rains so freaking much in England that he cannot imagine anyone leaving stuff out to dry overnight.  
The next two categories are also similar.  Those who steal from carts and carriages and those that steal copper and lead from houses both usually work with an inside man.  The inside man in the former case was usually the carriage driver himself.  He would occasionally leave the carriage open or even steal the items himself.  He needed the men he was working with to fence the items for him. 

When thieves plunder a house for metals they were either steeling the lead from the roof, the down spouts, or copper from the boiler.  Often this was done in connivance with one of the workmen involved with building a new house or refurbishing an old one.  Often, at this time period, roofs were lead.  Sometimes the thieves would actually be workmen who were dismissed from the job for one reason or another.  They would not only steal the lead or copper but also any tools that they found lying around. 

It was not always easy to get away with this crime, as hauling the heavy objects away, and usually from homes in good neighborhoods, was not automatic.  And if caught by a bobbie one could easily be nicked if one did not have a good enough reason for having the metal objects.

Usually when someone was caught stealing like this similar crimes ceased in the neighborhood for the next few weeks.

Some of the rest of the classes of thefts Scott does not really understand the need for as much attention as Mayhew grants them.  He seems to explain some pretty rudimentary things.

For example in the chapter on robberies by false keys Mayhew goes on to explain how the thieves talk to police to put them off their game.  Apparently these thieves will go up to a house during the day and ask the servants some odd questions and while they were there they will look at the type of lock on the door.  They then came back between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00  p.m. with a set of skeleton keys and opeedn the door, let themselves in and stole whatever they could.  Usually they carried a carpet bag to put the loot in or dress in an overcoat and put the loot in their pockets.

Also, strangely enough, if committed after 9 p.m. these sort of crimes would be considered burglaries for some reason.  Not sure why.                   

Robberies by lodgers covers pretty much what you would imagine.  The thief was in a lodging house and stole whatever they could from the house before running off early in the morning before everyone was up.  Sometimes this could be quite profitable, one man stealing between 700-800 quid at a nice hotel.  Other times the crimes were carried out in low lodging houses, occasionally by the prostitutes who frequented them.

This category bleeds over into robberies by servants.  In this case, as you would expect, the servants often stole items from their employers.  In some cases, however, the servants were on the in with another criminal and merely left windows and doors open so that the criminal could rob the house.  The servant would then stay on in the house for another couple of months, at times before leaving employment there, to allay suspicion.

One example Mayhew gives is of a locksmith’s apprentice who not only unlocked the locks he was being paid for but also other locks in the room and acquired the property contained therein.

He was caught because the cops got wind of what he was doing and tricked him with some marked money.

Area and lobby sneaks were those criminals who would go up and knock on a door of a house and ask for the master of the house.  While the servant was going to fetch the master the criminals run inside the lobby and stole everything they could.

Others snuck in through the back door of a house or a cellar and raided the pantry.

Sometimes women carried out this type of thievery by going to the back doors of these houses under the cover of selling things.  When they reached a house where no one was attending the door they went in and stole items.  Other women would notice a child in a door and would go up and ask if the mother is home.  If not they would give the child a small bit of money to go to the sweet shop and then plundered the house in the kid's absence.

Mayhew does note that these thieves seldom take hats!

Sometimes these thieves would open windows or break glass to get at the objects they wanted.  Sometimes iron bars hinder their progress so they use sticks with hooks attached to reach inside.  Others employed a small child in the graft and send the child into the buildings while they waited outside on lookout.  No doubt if someone did show up the child inside was abandoned to his fate.

Sometimes when a window was already open a boy would throw his cap in and then come in after it in a similar manner to the boy stealing from the till.  If caught he would of course profess his innocence.

Attic or Garret thieves were those who broke in through the upper story of a house by climbing onto the roof.  They generally gained access to a nearby roof and then moved along the roof tops of the buildings until they reached their target house.  They then entered an attic window and plundered the house. 

These men seem to excite the most admiration Mayhew displays for any of the thieves in this section. He says they were often of a gentlemanly appearance and were very difficult to catch.  When one was caught constables were brought in from distant districts to observe him so that they would recognize him if he operated in their districts.

This annoyed the thief no end.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"all that junk inside that trunk"

Finding items like this sampler is exactly why I love the Internet:

image source: Etsy (made by steotch)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

corset fails of a neo-victorian blogger

It's been a little while since I have written a good fashion post.  I am not sure whether this will make up for a good fashion post, but I figured that I ought to share some of my experiences with various quality types of corsets.

I currently possess four corsets.  The first two I've had in my possession are good, strong, sturdy corsets that can (and have) been tested at concerts, parties, and one was even tested at two high school proms (I should mention that this corset, the pink sparkly one, originated as the top half of my twin sister's junior prom dress, so it was built to last.)

A few months ago I went ahead and ordered two cheaper corsets from eBay.  They actually were not too different in price from the gold and white corset above, which I managed to snag from eBay at a steal- $22.

I bought two this April- a red brocade material of a corset, and a lacy black one.  Although I have read plenty of warnings about purchasing cheap corsets, I figured that these corsets would more or less serve as clubbing/bar outing/concert wear.  In other words, I was not going to be taking them out anywhere where they weren't going to get sweaty and gross and smoky to begin with.

This past May I paired up the black corset with a plum colored skirt from Marshall's (the one pictured above), fishnets, and knee-high flat boots for a Danzig concert.  Having been a sheltered individual for most of my youth I have turned into a rather curious person, so I asked my boyfriend if he would lead me to the mild mosh pit occurring in the middle of audience.  I wasn't a fan, mainly for three reasons-

  1. I hit my head on the concrete floor when a guy much bigger than myself slammed into me and knocked me over.  I had a mild concussion when I was 10 years old from a playground accident, so I get really worried when I hit my head in any way.  Fortunately no damage was done.
  2. I spent more time pulling up my corset so it wouldn't reveal anything than actually moshing.  That is a huge distraction from both the music and the mosh pit.
  3. Some jerk or jerks with me in the pit pulled at my corset strings to try and loosen them so my ta-tas would fall out.
The last part annoyed me more than the other two.  Not only did they damage the string on the back (making it increasingly harder to thoroughly secure the corset in place), but they were making assumptions about the type of girl I am based on my corset.  Instead of this Victorian undergarment being a fashion statement, these guys interpreted the corset as a sexual thing that they had full right to take advantage of.  Of course my having to pull up the corset so often in the relative non-privacy of the area outside the mosh pit probably did not help this assumption.  But when I have to rush out of the pit to readjust because some idiot literally made one good tug at my strings that managed to make the corset slip down (fortunately it was caught before it went very far) and then spend the rest of the time in the pit with one arm slung across my corset to prevent it from happening again, it does not make for an enjoyable time.

The next concert I attended, a Rob Zombie/Slayer affair, saw me with a purple bikini covered by the same fishnets and boots, a ripped up jean skirt, and a shredded t-shirt.  No wardrobe malfunctions occurred this time.

The second corset is the red brocade one.  I loved this one from the start and wore it anywhere I thought I could get away with it- to the production of The Elephant Man that Scott and I saw back in April, to work (paired with a pair of skinny jeans and mostly hidden underneath a boyfriend blazer, of course) and for a few fun things.

However, there were some problems at the start.  I noticed that the boning kept shifting to one side, giving it this sort of lop-sided look.  The boning also did not feel at all secure, despite my having bought a corset that was steel-boned.  

Last Friday I attended a no-cover happy hour at a club in Station Square that my friend's boyfriend had won.    After a July of intolerable heat, this August has been rather cool so far, especially in the evenings.  I decided to go with dark blue skinny jeans and red brocade corset (which is usually too constricted to let any air flow in, making it a poor match for humid summer nights).  As soon as I put the corset on, however, I felt a jabbing at my side, like a hard object scraping my skin.  I reached over and pulled at the offensive item.  A thin piece of clear plastic slipped out.  

The seller had lied.  My brocade corset has plastic boning, not the advertised steel boning.  Well, no wonder it was getting all sorts of lop-sided and needed constant straightening.  Discouraged, I tried a few other items on.  But my heart had been so set on that red corset that I decided to sew the hole that caused the boning to jab into my side in the first place.  I laced as tightly as I could.  Much to my chargrin, I realized the material had stretched too far.  I could actually breathe and the corset was a little too loose for comfort.  I left in that outfit anyway.

After that my wardrobe was fine, for the most part, until I hit the dance floor.  I guess bouncing motions don't go too well with corsets.  But I was constantly readjusting so much that I was once again reminded of the wardrobe malfunctions of Danzig concert, fortunately sans drunken morons who tried to pull at corset strings.

Although I did wear the red corset a good deal in the four months I've had it, I definitely do not feel as if I've gotten my money's worth out of it.

My advice is to bypass all corsets if you want to use them for hard play.  Spending extra cash on a sturdier corset is a much better investment in the long run.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"as the (steampunk) world falls down"

It's official.  My good friend Emily and I will be attending the Goblins and Gears Ball that I wrote about in this post last month. Emily's aunt suffers from multiple sclerosis and she loves all things faerie, so I think we're up for an excellent time.

It also gives me the opportunity to spend Halloween weekend in DC with Emily.  Now that's what I call BIWINNING.

Now to settle the most important question of all- what to wear?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

across the Pond

Soon I will be embarking on my two-week backpacking trip throughout Eastern Europe.  It' s been quite an interesting experience for me, from making sure I purchased extra Euros from the bank so I would have some cash on hand, to making sure all of my luggage fits TSA requirements.  The hardest thing about this preparation, however, has not even been the paperwork, the money balancing, or figuring out how I am getting from city to city.  It's been the packing.

I so want to look good in Europe.  But with only a hiking backpack (with attached daypack), I just can't fit much.  So I chose a base color- brown- and based the four or five "outfits" I plan to wear around that color.  Layers has been my goal- two camis, two blouses, and two cotton shirts, one pair of jeans, and a brown skirt.  Only two pieces of jewelry will be going with me, very basic toiletries, minimal makeup(only foundation, eyeliner, and simple eyeshadow) and one extra pair of brown flats.  Only socks and undergarments are packed in abundance for every day I will be away.

Despite this list I predict that I will still have to go through my bag and remove even more of these items, as I still have to add a sweatshirt and/or a warm fall jacket.  And I think I need to add a towel, as Leigh and I will be in hostels throughout most of the trip.

Now if I could just condense my copy of The Fountainhead then my bag might not feel so heavy.

As for this blog, I have pre-written six posts for the two weeks that I will be away, so there should be plenty for you all to read.  No internet for me for two weeks.  What a blessing!  Sometimes I do get sick of technology- I find it hinders my ability to think at times.

Where have you all gone this summer?  Has anyone been to Europe?  Any advice for a newbie backpacker?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

the loftiest apartment of the aether regions

Love the DIY ascetic of steampunk?  Wish you could replicate it for your own habitation, but don't have the time?  If you have the money, a steampunk loft in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC could be yours for only $1.75 million dollars.

image source: The Real Deal Online

image source: The Real Deal Online

When there are color-changing blimps, airship-looking light fixtures, a Murphy bed that pulls down using an skateboard pulley system, and submarine door complete with porthole, it seems like the loft would be well worth the price if only someone with a love of steampunk could afford it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

fight like a victorian

*Warning:  Here Be Sherlock Holmes-related nerdiness and some spoilers of Sherlock Holmes stories.  Read at your own risk.*

A few months ago, while reading "The Empty House" in The Return of Sherlock Holmes to my boyfriend Scott, Holmes' amazing resurrection from the death attributed to have befallen him (no pun intended) in "The Final Problem" was just... well, too convenient for Scott's tastes.

"'We tottered together upon the brink of the fall,'" I read aloud, imagining the final epic moments in the immortal struggle at Reichenbach Falls between the world's most brilliant consulting detective and the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty.  "'I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip-'"

"Wait, what?" Scott interrupted.  "Baritsu?"

"Yes," I answered, thinking he has just misheard what I had said.  Scott's a smart guy, and I often assume that he knows things of which he, in actuality, has no knowledge.  In this case it was not an unreasonable assumption, as the guy is an armchair military historian with basic knowledge of various sorts of fighting methods.

So I was a little surprised when he asked, "Yeah, what it is?"

"You've never heard of it?"

"No.  Tell me what it is."

"Well..." I began, not having any sort of idea what it was.  "It's... a form of Japanese martial arts, I guess.  It says so here in the text: 'baritsu...the Japanese system of wrestling.'"

"What does it look like?"

"I don't know.  Maybe it's like sumo wrestling."

Scott cut through my reading with a disbelieving guffaw.  "Yeah, like that's going to happen."  (imitating Holmes) "Moriarty almost had me, but I just happened to know some obscure fighting technique called baritsu and karate-chopped my way out of it."

Scott's belittlement of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's plot devices are probably justified  Even though I knew that Doyle had originally intended to kill off Holmes in "The Final Solution" when it was written in 1893 and baritsu was the cleverest way he could justify Holmes not actually falling to his death in the 1902 Holmes story "The Empty House," I didn't realize how much Doyle waxed bullshit on his readers.

Much thanks to The Steampunk Tribune for enlightening me on this fact through its recent article about bartitsu (spelled with an extra t)- the new up-and-coming martial art of neo-Victorian enthusiasts.  Without that article I would not have been directed to The Bartitsu Society's website, where they inform readers of the following:

In the year 1899, an English gentleman named Edward William Barton-Wright created the “New Art of Self Defence” that he called Bartitsu; a combination of low kicking, jiujitsu, fisticuffs and walking stick fighting, designed to beat the fearsome street gangs of Edwardian London and fin de siècle Paris at their own dastardly game.

Bartitsu was the first “mixed martial art” to combine Asian and European fighting styles. It was later incorporated as “baritsu” into the Sherlock Holmes stories...
So either Doyle wants to credit Holmes with inventing this sort of fighting or is responsible for an anachronism in his stories (which, by the way, isn't the first occurrence of such in the Sherlockian world).

Learn more about the resurgence of this Victorian/Edwardian style of fighting in the 21st century at The Bartitsu Society (including information on workshops and seminars!)  Or you can just watch this excerpt from the Society's documentary of bartitsu's history, which depicts demonstrations of this late Victorian martial art below:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

sugarland concert ends in disaster

This is terrible news to hear- concertgoers waiting to hear Sugarland, a country band noted for currently touring with a steampunk-inspired stage show, experienced unexpected horror as the stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, Indiana.  As the Detroit Free Press reported:
The crowd was poised in anticipation, including scores of people pressed up against the stage, just seconds before country music sensation Sugarland was to perform at the Indiana State Fair on Saturday night...

Backstage, Indiana State Police special operations commander Brad Weaver was watching an ugly storm moving in on radar via his smartphone. He and fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye decided it was time to evacuate the crowd.

But a minute later, when the crowd was addressed, the word was that the show would go on, and that the crowd should be prepared to find shelter if things changed. Some of the crowd sensed the danger and left without further word. But the majority remained.

Seconds later, a fierce wind blew in from the direction of the midway, kicking up what one witness described as "a canopy of dust."

In a moment that eyewitnesses described as both terrifying and in slow motion, the massive rigging above the stage bearing lights, sound equipment and at least one crew member swayed menacingly and then came crashing down on the crowd.

Four people were killed, a fifth died this morning in a hospital, and 40 others were injured severely enough that they needed to be taken to local hospitals. More than 150 were treated at a makeshift triage unit at the fairgrounds itself....

The grim nature of the tragedy stood in stark contrast to the music the concertgoers came to hear.

Sugarland, which mixes country and pop, serves up among the sunniest and most optimistic music on the airwaves.

Late Saturday, the band delivered a message about the disaster via Twitter: "We are all right. We are praying for our fans, and the people of Indianapolis. We hope you'll join us. They need your strength."

Read the article in its entirety here.  And please keep the victims and their families and friends in your prayers.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

steampunk safari

The below photo is a steampunk outfit I threw together for a Steel City Steampunk Society event last Friday. However, I ended up missing the event because I got lost. At least I got one good outfit idea out of it.

The skirt I bought from Anthropologie, the pair of knee-high black boots I got one year for Christmas, the blouse I bought from a secondhand store in Squirrel Hill, and I borrowed the pith helmet from my boyfriend. I made the steampunk gun myself. I wish I had done a close-up of my makeup because it turned out perfect.- so gentle and Victorian-looking, it hardly looked like I had makeup on- rather a sort of natural glow highlighted by light green and blue eyeshadow and a very thin eyeliner. But I was already running late and didn't want to miss the event, so I rushed out the door without that photo.

Go figure.

The past two weeks have been particularly tiring and, in many ways, frustrating. From going through a case of the blues that has you fearing that your depression has come back to letting your new counselor know that you don't think she's a good fit for you and you'd like a new counselor (which, oddly enough, dissipated my blues) there has been an emotional roller coaster as well as a physical one. I've also worked my arse off at both a previous job's battle reenactment last weekend as well as my current jobs this week and am starting to feel a bit burned out.

Goodness, I cannot wait until my European vacation. If anyone wants to submit a guest post that will go up during my trip please email me at the address on my profile before next Friday.

Friday, August 12, 2011

holiday madness and a weekend with holmes

Many apologizes for the lack of posts this week.  It's been absolutely crazy here- for some reason things at work have exploded, which I strongly suspect has to do with the fact that I leave for Eastern Europe in a little over one week from today and things need taken care of before I leave for both my full-time job and my part-time one.  That, and the continuing saga of my apartment's collapsing ceiling (which has FINALLY been taken care of... for now) have taken up a great deal of my time and slightly raised my stress levels.

For now I will post about an event going on at Blists Hill Victorian Town outside Ironbridge, Shropshire.  I've never heard of the place, but it is

This Saturday and Sunday Blists Hill will be a 19th century crime scene worthy of the skills of the Victorian era's own consulting detective- Sherlock Holmes- for Sherlock Holmes Weekend:
Are you an amateur sleuth and budding private detective? If so, you can help Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson solve a mysterious crime, which has taken place at Blists Hill Victorian Town over the weekend of Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 August. Come along and try your hand at forensic science, taking fingerprints, printing reward posters and matching plaster cast footprints to different shoes.

You can follow the trail of clues around the open-air museum and put your powers of deduction to the test helping the eccentric private detective and his side-kick to solve the curious mystery of treasure stolen from the Earl of Craven’s mansion.

Holmes and Watson will be on hand during the weekend to discuss the crime and talk about recent cases.
As a bonus Mrs. Hudson, the dynamic duo's housekeeper, will be joining them on their pursuits at Blists Hill. I wish there had been something like this in a nearby historic sight (such as the Frick Mansion in Wilkinsburg) when I was younger.  Heck, I still wish there was something like this event going on.

What I probably should do is join a volunteer program committee of a museum that is open to holding not-quite-historically-accurate events such as Blists Hill Victorian Town appears to be- they also have an Alice in Wonderland themed tea party that will be taking place in two weeks.

Making connections using the time period of a museum and literature or characters that 21st century visitors may be familiar with is often an excellent way to draw in people to a museum that do not have an interest in history.  At the museum where I used to work I created an 18th century tea program, even though our museum covered a battle between British forces and Native American warriors that had nothing to do with tea.  What I did to connect the two was give visitors the history of tea's introduction to the British colonies of North America and described how it would have been used on the Western Pennsylvanian frontier of 1763.  That, and the persona I assumed in my 18th century genteel dress was that of one of the frontier women connected with the battlefield.  The program brought in many women and girls who would not have visited a battlefield's museum otherwise, and left them curious to see our other, more military-geared events in the future.  It continues to be a successful event one and a half years after its conception.

Kudos to Blists Hill Victorian Town for using unique ways to draw in visitors!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

victorian gunpowder causes an explosion of interest

Today I found an interesting BBC news story from a few days ago that occurred in Dorset- A Swanage railway maintenance man found an unexploded charge of gunpowder.

The gunpowder itself is believed to be 126 years old, placed there when when railway workers were making a passage through the chalk rock of the Challow Hill of the Purbeck Hills.

Wait... There was an unexploded charge of gunpowder sitting there for 126 years? People and trains trekked that ground for decades and no one, not even a railway maintenance worker, noticed the charge until last week?!

The unexploded charge, 
before it was removed.
image source: BBC News 
Swanage Railway infrastructure manager Alistair Hall said: "It's really incredible and amazing the unexploded Victorian gunpowder blasting charge has been in the side of the railway cutting for 126 years without anyone noticing."

Mr Hall said that since the opening of the branch line in 1885 and the end of the British Rail line in 1972 - when the tracks were torn up for scrap - hundreds of thousands of trains had travelled past the spot where the explosives were found.

He added: "Throughout all those years, nobody noticed the Victorian explosive charge - perhaps people thought it was a rock blemish or a fossil or it could have been covered by wild plants."

A British Army bomb disposal team eventually removed the explosive after "making the charge safe." Whatever that latter part means... I think, if the charge had not been detonated after 126 years it might have had some sort of defect to begin with or one that developed with exposure to the elements. Of course, one never knows about these things and a little caution with explosives of any kind is not to be laughed at.

Read the rest of the article here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

pittsburgh's own steamworthy crib

According to the Forest Hills-Regent Square Patch, MTV's show Cribs will feature a local Pittsburgh house in an upcoming episode.  Why?  Because the Swissvale home, dubbed "Trundle Manor," is filled with creepy and antique items and oddities, strange collections, and altered "creations".

image source: Forest Hills-Regent Square Patch

image source: Forest Hills-Regent Square Patch

image source: Forest Hills-Regent Square Patch
The owner of the house is very much into steampunk, so it should be well worth watching for any enthusiasts, as well as the just plain curious.
image source: Forest Hills-Regent Square Patch
The episode will air Tuesday, August 9 at 4:30 p.m. EST.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

what happened to good, old-fashioned spanking?

Note to readers:  I am currently taking any guest blog posts for the end of August/ beginning of September.  If anyone wants to contribute a guest blog for this blog please comment and we'll work it out somehow...

Friday, August 5, 2011

a lesson in victorian slang

Insomnia has hit, so I need to do something to pass the time other than lie in bed awake, listening to water dripping from the leak in my ceiling (which has been there for two friggin' months already, MR. LANDLORD!) into the bucket placed under said leak.  Although I live within easy walking distance of the current scene being filmed for the new Batman film by Christopher Nolan, I doubt security would appreciate me wandering onto the set again.  I (not quite unintentionally) did that on Wednesday evening while on my jog in an attempt to get from 5th and Craig to 5th and Bellfield.  Needless to say the security lady was not amused.

So now here's a post on Victorian slang, courtesy of my boyfriend Scott's research and Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew.  I have no idea why there are so many different words for both pickpockets and counterfeiters.  Also, why were so many criminals stealing handkerchiefs that phrases for that specific crime entered the period's slang?

Victorian Term              Interpretation
Blag:                               to steal or snatch
Vamp:                             steal 
Gonoph:                          small time thief
Lurker:                            general criminal
Bludger:                           violent criminal or thief  
Buzzer:                            pick pocket 
Buzzing:                          picking pockets 
Cly faking:                       picking pockets (usually for handkerchiefs) 
Dipper:                            pickpocket 
Tooler:                            pickpocket 
Tooling:                           picking pockets 
Maltooler:                        pickpocket of females 
Mobsman:                       well dressed swindler or pickpocket 
Fine wirer:                       veteran pickpocket  
Snide:                              counterfeiter (usually jewelry) 
Bit Faker:                        coin counterfeiter 
Coiner:                            counterfeiter 
Shofulman:                      counterfeiter  
Sharp:                             card swindler 
Speeler:                          cheat, especially at gambling 
Macer:                           cheat  
Flimp:                             snatch stealer, purse snatcher 
Palmer:                           shoplifter 
Hoisting:                         shoplifting 
Buck Cabbie:                 dishonest cab driver 
Dragsman:                       someone who robs carriage 
Duffer:                            fence 
Cracker:                          burglar or safer cracker
Screever:                         forger
Haymarket Hector:           pimp
Ramper:                           hoodlum
Kidsman:                         child gang boss
Crow:                              a lookout
Smasher:                         someone who passes bad money (not necessarily a criminal) 
Beak hunting:                  stealing poultry
Snowing:                         stealing linen
Smatter Hauling:              stealing handkerchiefs
Fawney Dropping:           "finding" a valuable item and then selling it when it is actually not worth anything.
Snoozer:                          robbing sleeping people
Bug Hunting:                    rolling drunks 
Mutcher:                         a person who goes “bug hunting” (see above)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

subculture snobbery much?

I generally don't use this blog to preach, but this discussion about the legitimacy of mass-produced steampunk items that my boyfriend pointed out to me on reddit set my blood to slightly boiling.

The image that started the debate was of this hokey Halloween costume:

image source: imgur
That just tells me that steampunk is popular enough to get a hideous temporary follower for one day of the year (said day being the day that most other people are dressed freakishly different from their normal mode of dress.)  Not exactly my favorite thing to see, but steampunk is more of a "costume dress" subculture anyway, being partially historically accurate and partially sci-fi--not something you're going to want to share in all of its head-to-toe glory in the workplace or at school.

But the discussion that unfolded in the Reddit thread as a result of the image was rather surprising to me.  The main focus seemed to be the following:  If it's not DIY it's not truly steampunk.

Is this statement a legitimate assessment of steampunk culture?

I don't think so.  For one, of the few steampunkers I met, I would say only two managed to truly be DIY with their clothes and accessories.  Most were DIY with only about one or two accessories.  The majority had bought most of their supplies from thrift stores or online, doing a sort of mix-and-match with seemingly unrelated clothes items to make something that looked somewhat Victorian with twists that would not have been approved of in Victorian times.

For the sake of argument, even if one considers the mixing of clothes to be DIY (which I don't) there is also a difference between someone embarking upon steampunk for the first time and someone who either has a more creative mind or has been into the subculture for a while.  I was pretty nervous before attending my first SCSS event last month that my outfit, a mix-n-match of online-ordered items, that it would not be steampunk enough, even though I had worn the same outfit before in front of nonsteampunkers and called it steampunk.  I could easily see someone who is unfamiliar with the culture purchasing such a Halloween costume as pictured above and walking into an event out of fear that they won't be steampunk enough otherwise.

But I don't think that's a reason to disparage someone.  Sure, it's not creative, but with more exposure to the subculture they may want to move out of the "hokey Halloween costume" phrase to the "Hey, maybe I can try something a little more imaginative and adventurous" mindset.

If someone is only wearing the above as just a Halloween costume, then that's fine too.  It speaks volumes about the growing popularity of steampunk culture.  Just because it's mass-produced doesn't mean it's not real- a cheap Superman costume is still a Superman costume.  The DIYers will remain the aristocrats of steampunk culture with their carefully tailored outfits and lovingly crafted scientific and military apparatus.  One of these aristocrats standing next to someone wearing a mass-produced steampunk outfit will speak for itself in making people aware of what quality steampunk is.  People will see the difference between the hard-core people and those just dabbling.

And who knows?  The dabblers could become valuable assets to the growth of steampunk.

Let's not be steampunk hipsters- loving something until it becomes "cool" and acceptable.  If that's the case then you probably never really loved steampunk to begin with.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

advertisements de «la fée verte»

This week is going to be rather jammed for me, so blog posts may suffer.  I do have a little time at the moment, however.  Continuing with last week's absinthe post, here are some late 19th - early 20th century advertisements for that liquor dubbed "the Green Fairy":

image source: ecodigerati
image source: Tera Kristen's tumblr
image source: AllPosters.com
image source: ecodigerati
image source: ecodigerati
image source: Tera Kristen's tumblr
image source: ecodigerati
image source: Digital Hit
image source: AllPosters.com
image source: Keg Works Blog