Geneva Steam Con 2020, The Last Hot Time—

Geneva Steam Con

Daring the COVID-19 pandemic (which at that time was not an official crisis in Wisconsin yet) we attended Geneva Steam Convention. We knew that this was to be the last Geneva Steam Con, as the small but doughty band of organizers have decided to commit energies elsewhere for the forseeable future, but, as it turned out, may be the last fannish gathering, Steampunk or otherwise, for some time to come. Just as we came home from the con, governmental responses to the epidemic were ramping up, and, by this writing, we are beginning the second week of government “stay at home” orders.  (As I write, it is now two weeks since the end of the con, and we have no COVID-19. The Geneva Steam Facebook group appears to be COVID free so far.)

This year’s theme was “The Zozzling 20’s” (“Zozzling” being a 1920’s slang term for getting pleasantly drunk–), celebrating a hundred years since that roaring decade.

We arrived at Lake Lawn Resort shortly after noon on Friday, and were met with the usual cheerful and competent hotel desk staff.  Checking in was no problem, and we unloaded luggage into our room before going to the convention area and checking in with the concom.

We browsed around and chatted with other attendees before going to the first presentation, “Victorian Tea Parties,” by Miss Apolonia. This was a well done and interesting presentation, with real snacks available. Miss Apolonia brought an impressive array of exhibits, and shared a number of really good ideas on themed tea parties for various occasions.

After that, we went to the presentation by “Lord Bobbins,” teasing the upcoming (we hope!) War of the Worlds themed TeslaCon. His talk was rambling but entertaining and intriguing. Earth, largely disarmed after the unifying events of the last couple of TeslaCons, is taken flat-footed by the Martian invasion. The convention events will occur at the height (or perhaps the depth?) of the occupation, with the people of London living underground while Earth’s forces rally.

Lake Lawn Resort was having a Friday happy hour in the Geneva Room starting at five PM, so we went there to soak up a glass of free wine and some light snacks. These were quite nice, but we didn’t indulge much as we had dinner reservations for six PM. This was the first time we encountered hotel service staff, and we were interested to see that the bartenders and other servers were wearing nitrile gloves, even when pouring wine out of a bottle. We approved.

At six, we joined fellow Steampunks Bill Bodden and Tracy Benton for dinner at the Resort’s Frontier Restaurant.  We found that the Resort has a new chef since last year, who has done away with the Friday night seafood buffet (particularly surprising during Lent in Wisconsin–). The new menu has a lot of unique, but, in my opinion, rather overly fussily prepared dishes. I tried the Cracker Jack Chicken, described as “Cracker Jack-crusted breast of chicken,” with sweet beer-braised baby carrots, grilled asparagus, leek cauliflower potato mash, Jack Daniel’s honeycrisp apple butter, and sweet potato curls. The breading on the chicken was not as sweet as I had been afraid it might be, but I did find the chicken breasts themselves a bit on the dry side, though tasty.

For dessert, we assayed the “National Dairy Board Award Winning Dessert,” the Mud Pie with whipped vanilla Häagen-Dazs, Baileys Irish Cream & Kahlúa, poured into an Oreo cookie crust, and creamy chocolate ganache. This “pudding” was definitely “over-egged” as presentation also included a chocolate drizzle and chocolate coated coffee beans.  I passed my comments on to our server, who took them with very good humor.

The evening entertainment was music by Dublin O’Shea, and dancing by the attendees. The mobile bar setup in the Resort’s Great Room added to a pleasantly “speakeasy” ambiance. Dublin O’Shea gave their usual light-hearted and lively performance, and a good time was had by all.

Saturday had a full set of programs. We began by going to LED BEETHOVEN: a Kenosha Steampunk Music Experiment, presented by Paul Little, proprietor of the Steampunk General Store. He has an ambitious plan to increase Steampunk musical expression by getting more people involved in music and using less usual instruments. It’s a worthwhile object that has garnered some attention. We wish him well with it.

At noon, Georgie Schnobrich presented “How Women in America Got the Vote – Again.” Her talk brought out the fascinating and often forgotten history of Women’s Suffrage in the United States, including such facts that several colonies had allowed women to vote before the adoption of the United States Constitution—hence the “Again” part of the title.

“Permanent Ink: the Art of Tattoo” presented by “Death by Muffin” showcased the first modern age of tattooing, which gave rise to classic designs and styles that are still emulated today.

“The Glowing Girls and the Radium Rage” by Melinda Mitchell, told about the terrible cases of radium watch dial painters who were killed or crippled by their work. Unfortunately, the pattern of denial of danger, and then evasion of responsibility followed by the dial manufacturers is also still emulated by industries to this day–.

At 3PM, I gave my talk on “What They Drank During Prohibition,” which, along with smuggled liquor and bootleg “white lightning,” went into the hazards presented by patent medicines and industrial alcohol; explored alternative sources of drink, such as by prescription and through the Church; and clarified what “bathtub gin” actually referred to. I had a good audience who seemed interested and to have a good time.

After that, we cruised the Dealers’ Room, which had good shopping as usual, although a few fewer dealers than past years.

I had made advance dinner reservations for the Frontier again, which we decided to keep, intending to dine on lighter fare. (There was a Prime Rib buffet on offer this evening–.) I had the New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp from the “Small Plates” section of the menu, and Georgie had the Hanger Sliders (mini steak sandwiches). These were both tasty and good and made us an adequate light meal. For dessert, we went and got Cedar Crest ice cream from the Isle of Capri café, and we were quite happy.

The evening’s entertainment brought out more 20’s era outfits, with slinky gowns and “snazzy” suits. I wore my period appropriate Tuxedo, and Georgie wore a striking outfit inspired by Leon Bakst’s designs for Diagilev’s Ballet Russe. Music was DJ’d by The Fireball Federation, with visuals including silent films. We stayed through a large part of the Buster Keaton classic, The General, which I hadn’t seen since college days. I was surprised to be reminded that Keaton’s character, the heroic railroad engineer, is a loyal Confederate. In my memory, since Keaton was “the good guy” he had to be on the Union side–.

The movie is obviously now a period piece, set in the mythical realm of “Southern Chivalry,” sanitized since there are no black people in the movie at all, let alone any slaves. Nevertheless, it’s a fairly good story, and the stunts are still breathtaking. Marion Mack, who plays Keaton’s love interest, does not get enough credit, since she does a lot of the same stunts Keaton does, while wearing a dress.

Sunday morning, I gave my talk on “What Tesla Did (and Did Not) Do,” and had an interested and well-informed audience. I felt that, given the amount of mythologizing surrounding Tesla, it wouldn’t hurt to set the record straight about his actual, very significant accomplishments. (In my research, I was interested to find out that Tesla did actually design a “death ray,” actually what we would now call a charged particle beam.  Since he proposed using highly accelerated mercury droplets, it’s just as well no one tried to build it–.)

After that, we stopped though the authors’ area, asked about books, and bought some which will probably be reviewed here in future installments.  We left the con a bit after noon and drove back to Milwaukee, bidding the last Geneva Steam Con a fond farewell. We’ve enjoyed it while it lasted.


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