By Joshua Cross
And right from the very beginning you will say to yourself, “Oh I see the connection! Steampunks love the history of the Victorian era!” But this is far beyond that simple idea. We embrace a culture, a fashion, and an era not our own. Yes I did say that, it is not ours. I was not alive during the 1800’s, and don’t believe very many other steampunks were either. I say this because the very culture and way of life was dramatically different, harder, but extremely polite and courteous. We have taken this very real and historical aspect of life, blended in what we think and feel, that extra flare to a tailcoat, the medal of valor fighting the Kraken, wings of the airship captain. From our armor to our top hats, we retain that historical feel of the day.
So now you ask how is that saving history when we have twisted and perverted it? But it’s not about perversion of the historical, the altering of relics. It is the salvaging of pieces of discarded items that are considered trash by most that an artist will turn into something beautiful. The lost arts brought back and learned once again by leatherworkers and cobblers. We see buildings and towns in a different light, the amazement of the architecture and the elegance of the adornments and trimmings of an old hotel.
But see it delves much deeper than just a few junk pieces of an old clock used on a hat. Many strive to learn how citizens conversed with one another. The proper garments and fashions, historically accurate, and immaculate. Drinks of old, proper etiquette and protocols for breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea. When and where to smoke your cigar and have your evening brandy with the gentlemen whilst the ladies, have their tea and crumpets. Are you lost yet?
But still, we linger on historical; we maintain the status of the day. But it is quickly being taken from us. Rare artifacts from history, our history, being left to wither and rot. Buildings torn down, trains and carriages recycled, great steamships, rusting hulks of their former glory. All in the name of progress they say. Who’s progress? Not mine. Learning from history keeps it alive, keeps us from repeating mistakes.
But how is this saving it? How does this preserve history for future generations? Civil war re-enactors study and live the battles fought and died over, on a cycle parallel to the war itself. They wear period accurate clothing, use the same weapons and gear, eat, sleep and fight the same as they did so long ago. But what have they saved? An Idea, the way of life of the soldiers of the North and South, A culture of people long ago.
Historical preservation societies fight to save buildings and landmarks from destruction, so that future generations may visit the beauty of them. Individuals purchase furniture, or homes, refurbishing and restoring them to their original grandeur. Ships find men and women with new spirit and vigor, willing to holystone a deck.
With each new steampunk I meet, I pass along what I do for history and why. I enlighten them with the need to preserve our true historical relics and artifacts for all to enjoy. I encourage them to study history, learn from it and apply it to life today as we know it. But most of all, I beg them to help save it. Save it from the scrap yards, the tinderbox or the landfill. Save it from rotting away in someone’s barn, discarded and broken. For without history what are we? We would be a little poorer without knowing our past, and have no clear course for the future.
I see a re-emergence of our roots with each one that listens. Intensely listening to the words I say. Knowing that they hold truth, they ask questions about what I do, how I came to be the Admiral. I explain, humbly trying to hold on to the soul of the man I try to portray. My small and meager collection of personal relics, reproductions and the lessons taught to me by my piano teacher, remind me I do not portray the Admiral, I am he, simply living out of time and place, as most steampunks already are. With each new face we enlighten to the world that was that has become so much of our own, we save a little piece of it.
The immortality of an idea, the memory of family and friends of yesterday that linger in photographs, the taste of rum and whiskey that wet our lips, bringing sensations to body and mind that preserve the moment for all time. We save these piece of our very own history, while saving that of our forbearers. I persevere to save nautical aspects of our history; the great ships that came to be that played such an important role to the men and women who sailed them. With each dollar I raise I see another bolt, another rivet, another memory of long ago preserved and immortalized for another generation.
Yet so much that we fantasize about from long ago was to them, their very near and possibly real future. They envisioned great airships and steam locomotives moving across the land and sky. Great ships of steam and coal, bearing forth across the oceans to new horizons and adventures, adventures that they dreamed of. The dark continent of Africa, the pirates of the Ivory and Gold coasts, strange beasts of India, the tombs of lost kings in Egypt and the great jungles of the Amazon. We live these dreams, as our reality of story. We keep alive that spirit, that dream of yesterday, through our stories, through our dress, and our very lives. We preserve the history as it was, but embrace how it could have been. Now I hear the purist cry out that we are not saving history but perverting it, twisting the very fabric of what really was. But yet we are indeed saving it to an extent. We save the ideal that was. We have saved the culture of the tea duel, the gentleman’s brandy, the politeness of the greeting one another by tipping our hats.
Many live as steampunks with each breath they draw, from the clothes in their wardrobe, to how the speak, to how they live. They are all around you; some don’t even realize they are. They are members of preservation societies, re-enactment groups, or actors on a stage. They give panels discussing Victorian dress and etiquette, the difference of classes, the naval officer. Each brings a plethora of facts to re-enforce what they speak. Bringing to life the history of another so we might preserve it. Bringing another steampunk to the fold. Another soul yearning to embrace their history from long ago, and save it for another to see.
As the great march of time proceeds to leave us steadily in his wake, we fight a battle to save what we can. From the idea to the dream to the story of old. The pocket watch, lost for decades, sold at a yard sale for a few pennies, someone’s memory long forgotten. By chance picked up by a young blossoming steampunk because it looked cool. The engraved love note from a young man’s wife inside the cover, becoming part of his story now. One little piece, one little idea, one emotion from long ago. From that love of one to another, forgotten and found, embraced by a person a century later, knowing that someone cherished this time piece and saving it from destruction.
So I beseech you, save it while we can, while there is still a chance. Donate a little here and there to a worthy cause. Not just money but time helps as well. Learn our history, our culture from years ago. How we talked and dressed, how we treated each other, friends and strangers alike. Do not lose what was fought so hard for to the pages of history herself. Keep it alive, Keep it safe, and keep it for everyone to see. And teach those around us, that this is not just a fad or fashion; this is a way of life worth saving. That we hold fast to our history, teaching it to all we can and who will listen, saving it, one steampunk at a time.