Steampunks converge on Port Townsend

By Alex Frick
Posted 6/19/24



The 10th Annual Brass Screw Consortium Steampunk Festival celebration of weird science, peculiar genius, metal props, snug buttresses and good company returned to Port …

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Steampunks converge on Port Townsend




The 10th Annual Brass Screw Consortium Steampunk Festival celebration of weird science, peculiar genius, metal props, snug buttresses and good company returned to Port Townsend June 14-16.

From Friday through Sunday, the quirky Steampunk Festival transported the town to an alternate dimension of a city that time forgot. The vintage yet modern representations featured elements of classic Victorian social garb and mixed it with the brassy, imaginative art of the 21st century.

Olympic Peninsula Steam, a non-profit organization and local charity, organized and hosted the event. Nathan Barnett, who helped create it in 2012, returned as its director, but this weekend, he was better known as Aetherist leader "Driveshaft."

Barnett said that Port Townsend has the perfect setting to capture the retro-futuristic essence of steampunk society. "We are unique in the country, or we're extraordinary in the country, for taking place in a setting that is so perfect for Victorian fantasy and reenactment," said Barnett. 

Mayor David Faber kicked off the event by proclaiming it "Port Townsend's Steampunk Weekend," honoring Barnett as the Steampunk Mayor of Port Townsend for the day.

The Brass Screw Consortium is a society divided by factions. The Brass Screw High Command recruits unsuspecting visitors of the event, and guests must choose which of the four competing factions to align with in a weekend battle of mysticism, science, fortune, and chaos.

Visitors had choices. They could join ranks with the Pirates, also known as Captain Fortesque Hawthorne Wrenn's fleet of hot air balloon bandits of the sky. Opposing the upward scallywags was the secret aristocracy of high society, The Aetherists.  Barnett’s group was the authority, using powers of aether manipulation to protect the community from outward and inward threats.

A constant thorn in the side of the aristocratic Aetherists were the Outlaws, a complex allegiance of outcasts on the edge of society, fighting for autonomy and equality. The final faction was the Cogs, an intellectual and experimental group of citizens who harness the power of science. Challenging vintage Victorian society, the Cogs pioneered technological advancements that threatened the balance of power in Port Townsend.

It might seem confusing but it played out well as the factions competed with one another in a series of competitions. They were motivated, because the winner would  gain the right to defend the Brass Screw Consortium, as there is always darkness lurking in the shadows.

Throughout the weekend, factions competed in three traditional steampunk contests – Tea Dueling, a Game of Glyphs, and Sophisticuffs. Steampunk Mayor Barnett explained the rules of these competitions.

"Tea dueling is literally tea dueling. You have a cup of tea and a biscuit, a cookie, and the challengers dip their biscuits, and the biscuit starts dissolving, and the one who can cleanly transfer that biscuit into their mouth last, so the last cookie standing is the winner," said Barnett. "But if it falls apart and sullies your waistcoat or blouse, then you're clearly not the winner. It's a game of iron nerves."

A Game of Glyphs is a scavenger hunt where factions must solve riddles to uncover the location of glyphs around town, whereas Sophisticuffs is a two-second card duel using a custom Steampunk card deck designed by American game designer James Earnest.

In 2023, the Pirates sailed in and seized the competition in a landslide victory, claiming leadership over the other factions. This year, the Pirates failed to keep Port Townsend safe as a sea of monsters infiltrated Legion Hall, led by a 10-foot-tall monster of darkness.

"This year, the pirates were in charge, and they dropped the ball and allowed us to be infiltrated and attacked by monsters, so they fell down on the job. The monsters almost took over, except that our participants were able to save us," said Barnett.

Factions and their participants worked together, attacking the monster with Nerf guns and tennis ball launchers until the behemoth was defeated.

"This year, we were able to survive because all of the factions worked together and collaborated. And so we've decided that next year we will be operated by a council," said Barnett. "We will form a council of four factions instead of having one group lead."

In other words, there was no winner. 

Barnett said that 250 participants registered the event,  but he estimated that total attendance could have ranged anywhere from 700 to 1200 people. Apart from participating in faction duels or defending Port Townsend against a monster invasion, visitors were invited to partake in a variety of Steampunk-related activities.

Kids had the chance to participate in a scavenger hunt, where they found Dungeons & Dragons monster cards and traded them in for raffle tickets, which could lead to prizes. Adults got in on the fun, too, with an adult treasure hunt in which they must find the hidden key to unlock a treasure chest.

In addition to the activities, there were a number of shows and events showcasing elements of Steampunk. There were fashion shows, live music, interactive bodgers' exhibits and a burlesque show for adults, all featuring Steampunk's influence and ingenuity.