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Steampunk Festival in Waltham drew 12,000 people despite rainy weather

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  May 15, 2013 01:22 PM

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Jaclyn Reiss for Boston.com

A group of steampunkers showed off their costumes on Saturday. From left to right: "Killianz," a self-described combat engineer of Salem; Mike Sylvia of Lakeville; Bill Lovenbury of Taunton; and Kyle Whitty of Raynham.

The fourth annual Watch City Festival in Waltham, which celebrates all things steampunk, brought in 12,000 visitors this past weekend over the three-day event - a number far from a record high, but still impressive considering the cool, rainy weather and the quasi-underground nature of the movement.

Steampunk, an aesthetic movement that visualizes modern technology in the Victorian Era (think: The Prestige meets Iron Man), usually takes over the Waltham streetscape one weekend every year. Attendees come dressed up in innovative garb - donning iconic brass goggles, corsets, and top hats - and delight in meeting other people across the country interested in steampunk.

The Waltham festival also serves as a big-ticket fundraiser for the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation, which suffered $500,000 worth of damage in a 2010 spring flood. The money raised helps the museum rebuild sections that were damaged.

Elln Hagney, director of the museum, said last year, the event saw 17,000 people attending, compared to this year's 12,000.

"The rain clearly kept people away," Hagney wrote in an email. "Sunday numbers were about the same as last year, however Saturday was about half of what we had last year."

Hagney said the addition of the night circus, an event added this year geared towards families in the early evening and then the 21+ crowd later on, drew 400 guests on Saturday night.

Hagney also said a bicentennial exhibit honoring Francis Cabot Lowell, a Waltham local who has been dubbed the father of the Industrial Revolution, was also "a huge hit," and noted that six more local businesses actively participated this year than by holding special events.

"Our hope is that the festival will continue to grow and over the years will become a calling card for Waltham," Hagney wrote.

At the festival on Saturday, many braved the rainy weather with lacey customized umbrellas - one icon of the movement - while others perused the Waltham Common sporting mechanical limbs, dressed in Victorian-style dresses, or while holding mythical props. A live-action demonstration of a steam engine drew fixated onlookers, while others stopped to crowd around a trio of belly dancers at the bandstand.

"I love steampunking – it's the best time,” said Emma Campbell, a 14-year-old from Rhode Island dressed in boots, a collared shirt, tweed pants and a mechanized arm decoration.

Russell W. Hannula, 31, of Hubbardston, Mass., showed off his science professor-esque costume complete with a white lab coat, and a prop he made up dubbed a "hydrophobic field emitter," which had the fictional purpose of repelling water, he said.

"This festival is quite large – it seems fairly substantial," Hannula said, adding that this year was his first at the Waltham event. "It's better than looking at the inside of a hotel room. It definitely lives up to my expectations."

The common on Saturday was also dotted with vendor tents, as the festival drew many business owners from across New England hoping to sell costumes, trinkets and jewelry to fans of the underground movement.

Mary-Ann Wood-Besnia, who owns a Franklin shop that sells jewelry made from broken china plates, said the festival seemed like a perfect place to rake in some extra income.

"This is the first year we’re here, but it’s a good fit," Wood-Besnia said, noting that she had already sold various pieces of jewelry by early Saturday afternoon.

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Follow us on Twitter: @yourtownwaltham, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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