BLOOMINGTON — Wearing a Victorian-era soldier uniform with a jet pack strapped on his shoulders, CJ Munz sipped a cup of tea in the McLean County Museum of History.
What sounds like a clash of motifs was actually the perfect representation of “steampunk.”
Steampunk style was at the core of Bloomington’s first Cogs & Corsets: A Central Illinois Steampunk Happening, held downtown.
Munz traveled from Beloit, Wis., for the funky event.
“Steampunk is like Victorian meets sci-fi. It’s how Victorian people would picture the future,” said Munz on Saturday. “I like the creativity, the camaraderie and feeling like a kid again by dressing up.”
He has traveled to steampunk events across the country and was surprised at how well Cogs & Corsets was organized.
“I’m quite pleased to see how the city promoted this event. It’s usually something that is organized independently, but I’m impressed,” he said.
The Downtown Bloomington Association, McLean County Museum of History and other Bloomington organizations and businesses hosted the event, which continues Sunday with a ticketed brunch at the Vrooman Mansion.
“The museum is super excited to be a part of this,” said Candace Summers, director of education at the history museum. “It’s nice to see people interested in these unique activities with a historic spin. There’s a very welcoming atmosphere that steampunk offers.”
Participants took a break from the heat to enjoy tea in the air-conditioned Gov. Fifer Courtroom in the history museum.
On the museum lawn, martial arts specialist Allen Reed led a group in a class on Bartitsu, a vintage martial art and self-defense method.
The group learned how to fight using wooden canes and antique umbrellas.
Nearby, a crowd gathered around a small racetrack on West Jefferson Street, where remote-controlled cars were topped with specialized tea pots. Spectators cheered as each teapot raced through obstacles, trying to score the best time.
Despite the heat, steampunk fans wore Victorian costumes with corsets, goggles and jewelry made of machinery gears.
Shadrick Taylor, Sara Kilman, Randi Freshour and Jacob Mueller, all of Springfield, stopped to take pictures with the Abe Lincoln bench statue near the entrance of the history museum.
Abe was decorated with jeweled goggles, a velvet vest and a feathered ribbon around his top hat.
“I’ve never had the chance to go to a festival like this outside of St. Louis or Chicago,” said Kilman. “It’s really cool seeing local art at the galleries created around a certain theme.”
“It’s fantastic to see an event gather so many people interested in the same thing,” said Taylor. “I’d give this a glowing review.”
Among the usual vendors at the Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market were steampunk merchants selling jewelry and art.
Makayla and Kaitlyn Busse, 10 and 13, browsed necklaces with their mom, Morgan Busse, and grandmother Mary Jo Busse, all of Bloomington.
“Steampunk is set in the Victorian era where people use advanced technology that runs on steam,” said Kaitlyn.
The family is especially interested in the modern-meets-Victorian vibe because Morgan Busse is the author of a steampunk book series called "Soul Chronicles." Set in the 1800s, the fantasy story is about a woman who has the power to twist the natural laws of science.
“Steampunk is a lot of fun. The Victorian era was a time when lots of women’s rights started to form and more women were joining the science field,” said Morgan Busse. “We moved here six months ago. It’s great to see the town put this together.”