December 6, 2021

Steampunks come to Cortland

Festival celebrates 19th century-based science ction sub-genre

Travis Dunn/Staff Reporter

Dr. Who impersonator Scott Walker of Syracuse answers questions in character for emcee Vanessa Mielke at a Saturday fashion show during the steampunk-themed Gears to Corsets festival that spanned several locations in the greater Cortland area.

Sandro Mironti, owner of New York Bagels at 33 Main St., Cortland, didn’t quite know what to make of the people in outlandish costumes coming into his shop Saturday morning — especially the two women wearing mechanical wings.

“They kind of caught me by surprise at first,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was.”

He soon found out — it was Gears to Corsets, a weekend-long steampunk-themed festival that spanned the greater Cortland area from the Cortland Corset building at 75 E. Court St. to the Central New York Living History Center in Homer and including many spots in between.

The festival also spilled over into many downtown businesses, as festival-goers popped in for a meal or a drink.

Steampunk, a sub-genre of science fiction set in the late 19th century, featuring retro-futuristic Victorian settings and technology, mixed with a 20th century punk sensibility.

In recent years, festivals have grown up around the aesthetic.

Melody Cooper knew exactly what it was, and she came from Westchester to participate. Saturday afternoon, her elaborate get-up took judge’s choice in the feminine fashion category in a fashion show at the Cortland Repertory Theatre.

Cooper, a science fiction and comic book writer in the HBO Writer’s Program, said this was her first time at a steampunk festival, for which she came costumed as a time traveler.

She wasn’t the only one. Tom Baker, the fourth Dr. Who, was also there — or rather, his weekend doppleganger, Scott Walker of Syracuse.

This was Walker’s first steam- punk event, too, but definitely not his first time dressing up as Dr. Who — that he does “all the time,” he said. He even used to have his own T.A.R.D.I.S., but no longer. (He did not explain how he got to Cortland without one.)

Brittany McAvoy from Trumansburg came as an “octopus diver” — that is, a diver who stayed underwater so long she became an octopus.

McAvoy frequently wears her costumes in public, she said, because then she can “see what everybody thinks of them so I know what changes to make.”

Travis Dunn/Staff Reporter

Steven Pitzel of Lansing explains his costume to emcee Vanessa Mielke at a Saturday fashion show during the steam- punk-themed Gears to Corsets festival that spanned several locations in the greater Cortland area.

Two of the most elaborate costumes on display Saturday were constructed by Connie Farrell and Tama Webster, two sisters from the Rochester area, along with the help of Connie’s daughter Jane.

Farrell and Webster, the winged women who surprised Mironti in New York Bagels, won first place in the group fashion category, for costumes that featured motorized wings that flapped.

“It’s pretty cool,” Moronti said. “It reminds me of the activities they have in Skaneateles for the holidays, when they have people in costumes. I just thought it was really interesting that they’d have something like that in Cortland.”

Meghan Lawton, executive director of Cortland County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she was very pleased with the event.

“We’ve had great turnout,” she said, pointing to about 75 people in costume who showed up for the Saturday morning promenade through Courthouse Park.

Crystal Lyon, the artist who painted the steampunk-themed mural on the side of the Corset Building, said the number of people in costumes exceeded her expectations.

“There’s way more people participating with outfits that I thought,” she said.

The best part, she said, was the questions she got from curious residents. “Why are you dressed up?” and “Why do you look like that?” The questions gave her a way to explain the festival, and to draw more people into joining the events.

Lyon said she hopes to see the festival continued annually.