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Big River Steampunk Festival Coming to Hannibal Labor Day Weekend

The Hannibal History Museum has announced they’re sponsoring a new event in downtown Hannibal on Labor Day Weekend. The first-ever Big River Steampunk Festival will take place August 30 – 31. 

Lisa Marks with the Hannibal History Museum was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the festival:

Big River Steampunk Festival Hannibal Mo

What is Steampunk? 

“Steampunk,” a term which was first used in 1987 and derived from the term “Cyberpunk,” can be called “Victorian Science Fiction.” Those involved in Steampunk came up with this definition to describe their philosophy: “Steampunk is a creative social movement that draws inspiration from Victorian history in an anachronistic mix of science fiction, modern values, and a sense of fun.” Steampunkers are creative people who immerse themselves in the Victorian era yet live as if it were their modern-day world – imagining what life would be like if the steam power of the Industrial Revolution is what drives their modern technology instead of electricity. If you remember the 1960s TV show ‘The Wild, Wild West’ or the movie of the same title with Will Smith and Kevin Kline – that’s Steampunk. It’s a re-imagining of history in the same way that Mark Twain imagined how history might be changed when introduced to modern technology in his book ‘Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.’

What does one do at a Steampunk Festival? What can visitors expect? 

Think “Renaissance Faire” but rather than medieval England it’s Victorian America. Steampunkers enjoy creating historical personas and design elaborate costumes to celebrate their love of history and adventure. Our Festival will provide Steampunkers with the chance to immerse themselves in a Victorian setting and recreate life in the 19th century. One main event is a Cosplay (Costume Play) treasure hunt where players may interact with merchants on Main Street and costumed re-enactors to learn clues and solve mysteries to earn prizes. There will be a hot air balloon tethered on the riverfront for rides high above the Mississippi (great photo op for those in costume!). A vaudeville show will recreate the entertainment of the late 19th century. There will be seminars on Steampunk-related topics, and the Great Midway will be an area set up for vendors to sell Steampunk style merchandise. Tea parties, duels, a fashion show, a special exhibit on inventions at the Hannibal History Museum and other events will also be part of the fun.

Why Hannibal as the setting for the Big River Steampunk Festival? 

Hannibal is the perfect setting – we are authentically Victorian, and Hannibal was a major center of commerce during the Industrial Revolution. We had steamboats, steam powered trains, and scientists and inventors who patented dozens of gadgets. Historic Main Street is the perfect backdrop for Steampunkers to portray their personas in the 19th century, and the beautiful Victorian homes throughout the historic districts inspire the right sense of time and place.

How did the idea for the festival come about? 

Ken [Lisa’s husband] and I had been thinking for past several years about the Hannibal History Museum hosting a special event over the Labor Day weekend. There’s really not a lot on the calendar for downtown Hannibal between National Tom Sawyer Days in July and the Folklife Festival in October. We love history, of course, and wanted any event we sponsored to be a celebration of Hannibal’s history. We have several friends who are into Steampunk, and have always been fascinated by the costumes and gadgets, so the idea evolved over time. It just seems like a natural fit for Hannibal.

What are the goals of the event? 

Our main goal is to bring new visitors to Hannibal, and to provide enough entertainment to entice them to stay overnight. The event will be a fundraiser for the Hannibal History Museum [a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation] but we are realistic that these events usually take years to establish. This year, we’re just hopeful that we can demonstrate how Steampunk is a perfect way to celebrate Hannibal’s history during its Gilded Age and to encourage Steampunk enthusiasts to make this an annual destination so that the Festival will grow with time.

How can people get involved? Do you need volunteers? 

We are hoping that we can get volunteers to participate by dressing in costume and interacting with players during the Cosplay Treasure Hunt. We will also need folks to help with the hot air balloon and set-up/tear-down of a few of the events. We would love to have sponsors help defray some of the costs (and receive promotion in return). Finally, we’d very much like businesses and civic groups to be involved, to either sponsor one of the events or come up with their own way of participating by offering a special Steampunk-themed event. If anyone is interested in being a part of the Big River Steampunk Festival, first visit the website – – to learn more about the event, then contact us at the Hannibal History Museum. We want this to be a community celebration in the same way that Just Girls Weekend and Folklife have become.

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