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Originally published November 20, 2010 at 7:56 PM | Page modified November 21, 2010 at 10:04 PM

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Corrected version

Steampunk convention draws 1,700 eccentrics to Seattle

About 1,700 people attended Steamcon, a weekend celebration of all things "steampunk" — the age of steam power re-imagined in the Internet era — in the Seattle area.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The 19th-century apothecary sits down on a brown upholstered bench outside an airport hotel conference room and pulls out an iPhone.

Dressed in late-Victorian-era garb befitting an old Western medicine dispenser, Pam Banis, 46, of Bellingham, text-messages her younger sister, who has just seen a digital photo of Banis' husband, Ben, wearing a black kilt, combat boots — and eye-protection goggles.

"The goggles really threw her off," said Banis, who runs a hair salon with Ben when she's not donning hats with tulle and pretending to be "Maggie May Hopplemeyer" of the 1880s. "So what I wrote to her is, 'This is where the Victorian era and steam science come together. Think Captain Nemo, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc.' "

Banis was one of about 1,700 people attending Steamcon, a weekend celebration of all things "steampunk" — the age of steam power re-imagined in the Internet era — at the Marriott and Hilton hotels near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The second annual gathering, with the "Weird Weird West" as its theme, attracted Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials, who strolled the carpeted hallways in elaborate costumes and attended seminars on such subjects as "geared locomotives" and the "science of airships."

The term "steampunk" was coined 30 years ago by author K.W. Jeter, who wrote a sequel to H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" about a trip back in time to 1890s London. The subcultural genre has popped up since in all sorts of places — on iPhone apps, in movies including Will Smith's "Wild, Wild West" and Nicole Kidman's "The Golden Compass," and at a growing number of gatherings throughout the U.S.

"We were the only dedicated steampunk convention last year. But this year, there are about a dozen around the country, so we were a little ahead of the trend," said Steamcon co-founder Diana Vick, a Seattle illustrator and greeting-card designer.

She described steampunk as "Victorian science-fiction," adding, "We want to go back to when technology was ornate and interesting and understandable."

Alex Agnes, 18, of Gresham, Ore., took the train up from Portland to attend Steamcon with his girlfriend, Kylee Turner, also 18 and from Gresham.

Agnes wore a black tailcoat and hat, a silver pocketwatch tucked into his vest, and a gunman's belt with strings through the bullet holders to carry various things.

"I have some pulleys, an hourglass, little bottles, a plethora of keys and a 20-sided die," said Agnes, a theater-tech major at George Fox University. "Because I'm a time traveler, you always want to have everything on your person, and you want it all where you can get to it."

Turner wore black pointy-toed boots, lace stockings and skirt, poofy white shirt and a corset tied at the bottom rather than the top — a sign of a modest woman.

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"I like the Victorian era," said Turner, who's studying music at Portland Community College. "I feel the fashions were more proper. They had better standards."

Stephani Miller, 57, of Bremerton, pretended to be an airship pirate from the late 1800s. She wore an aviator cap and goggles and carried two pistols.

"For a while, you can let the outside world go and be whoever you want to be," said Miller, who participated in medieval re-enactment groups for two decades before discovering steampunk at a science-fiction convention last year.

"Yes, in life, I'm a really nice person. I'm retired, I have grandkids," she said. "Here, I can play this chaotic, neutral-type person, where if I feel there's something in it for me, I'll hang with you, but if I find out there's nothing in it for me, I'm gone."

"Darling," she added, adopting a fake English accent, "I'm very bad."

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

Information in a photo in this article, originally published Nov. 20, 2010, was corrected Nov. 21, 2010. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated a person's name and hometown. The correct name is Cassandra Lopez, from Seattle.

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