published Sunday, August 10th, 2014

The age of steam: Choo Choo perfect setting for sci-fi con

  • photo
    Sydnie Enecks, left, and Wendy Krauss look at fabric for sale.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
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Samantha Lynn and her 6-year-old daughter were dressed for a Victorian-era science fiction movie as they walked among the train cars at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel on Saturday afternoon.

Their multilayered outfits were accented with studs and chains; the edge of a lace petticoat stuck out from under Lynn's flowing brown skirt, which was short enough to expose her fishnet tights and leather boots.

The mom and child were among the elaborately garbed crowd attending Chattanooga's first Steampunk Expo & Gothic Convention, and the costumes they wore were handmade.

Lynn assembled their dress from clothes she found at Goodwill and basic craft supplies. She decorated the brown toy gun that her daughter carried with silver gears and gold paint so that it fit with the steampunk theme.

"We love to dress up together," Lynn said in the courtyard of the hotel.

They were just two of more than 400 people attending the con over its three-day run, said Steve Dockery, a director of the event.

The steampunk genre blends elements of Victorian culture with Jules Verne-esque science fiction, and in recent years it has gained popularity among people who enjoy dressing up in costumes and role-playing.

"I have always been fascinated with steampunk, so I was looking for conventions to go to, but they are all up in New York or New Jersey. I thought, why not put one on in Chattanooga? And what better place than the Choo Choo?" said Dockery.

The historic train depot was completed in 1905, just four years after Queen Victoria's death. The train cars that are still a part of the hotel are modeled after the Victorian era. On Saturday, the train cars looked like props strategically placed around the costumed steampunk enthusiasts.

"Chattanooga is so historic and that is what steampunk deals with, specifically the Victorian era," Dockery said. "Steampunk and Chattanooga are tied together perfectly with the Choo Choo."

Besides steampunk fanatics, the con also catered to Goths and a variety of other so-called costumers. It had a full schedule of events including a gear swap, a vendor hall that sold merchandise, a masquerade ball and several seminars. Special guests included costume experts Paige Gardner and Naomi Grunwald-Eberhart, and steampunk authors Alan Lewis and J.L. Mulvihill.

Friends Alan Grist and James Mealey live in Chattanooga and have been costuming together for years. They were at the Con to buy some additional costume pieces. Mealey found a furry tail to complete the original costume he created for the character he named Shadow Fox. Grist bought a pair of brown leather goggles that were round and thick rimmed, with multiple buckles on the strap to go with his developing steampunk costume.

"Conventions are a chance to buy the highest grade costumes from vendors. The glasses and goggles you buy here will last for years," Mealey said.

The men in top hats and combat boots and the women in corsets with heavy, dark makeup all seemed to agree that Chattanooga needs to have more steampunk-themed events.

Plans are already in place to host another convention next year, Dockery said.

"Once you start attending a con you never stop," Mealey said.

The convention continues today with a swap meet from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6592.

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