UC San Diego's Geisel Library draws revelers to Steampunk Tea in La Jolla

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By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

Steampunk. It’s more than a fad for dressing up in neo-Victorian costumes. It’s a lifestyle embraced by thousands of fans worldwide, who flock to annual festivals held in venues from Morristown, New Jersey to Ipswich, Australia.

The steampunk aesthetic includes corsets and goggles, high hats and low necklines, but its inspiration is the late-19th century novels of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, plus films like Fritz Lang’s silent classic, “Metropolis” from 1927.

You might call it a mad mix of re-imagined steam-engine-era sci-fi fantasy and modern technology, or, as Scott Paulson, the man behind last month’s Steampunk Tea at UC San Diego’s Geisel Library, put it: “Dungeons and Dragons with better costumes — Jules Verne-chic!”

The June 29 event was the second, more-or-less-annual Steampunk Tea for Paulson, who is the library’s events coordinator, carillon-master (he performs live on Geisel’s rooftop chimes and welcomes requests), and director of the Teeny-Tiny Pit Orchestra and the Not-So-Silent Film Festival.

Besides iced tea and finger foods, the Tea offered interactive displays of Victorian paper theaters and masks; period postcards to handwrite and send to family and friends; and steam-punkish music, with audience participation on unusual but user-friendly instruments like musical saws, ceremonial bells, train whistles, thunder tubes, ratchets, bulb horns and exotic birdcalls. There were even take-home party favors: jellybeans, Victorian fans and “divining rings” — finger-size compasses.

Best of all, there was the opportunity to interact with dozens of writers, inventors, program-planners, costume-wearers and costume-designers, who call themselves part of the wide and welcoming steampunk community. If all this neo-Victoriana sounds appealing, Paulson will be hosting a Victorian paper theater festival in August. For details, visit

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