Monday, April 2, 2012

Con Report: The Nightmare Machine 2012, Jefferson, TX

I am very recently returned from Jefferson, TX where I attended The Nightmare Machine steampunk/paranormal con.  This was a very different event from any other and as such is a little difficult to summarize.

First of all, if you haven't heard of Jefferson, TX, don't feel bad because most Texans I've talked to haven't either.  It's a small town in the northeast corner of Texas, very close to the Louisiana border.  In the 19th century, it was a very important port town, being situated along several lakes, bayous, and rivers.  However it seems that after trains took over from steamboats as the major way to move around, the town lost importance and wealth.  But most of what is still in Jefferson dates back to the 19th century.  It's a beautiful Victorian town, and the residents are extremely proud of their history.  The town is also reported to be the most haunted town in Texas and they do good business on all the ghost stories.   The town hosts a HUGE Civil War weekend every May and supposedly a great Mardi Gras.  (Ok, I may have fallen in love with Jefferson a bit.)

So someone had the brilliant idea to hold a steampunk event in this town.  But since there aren't any large hotels there, they basically took over a large part of the town.  There were panels and events in several different buildings around town, and everyone stayed in various small hotels, B&Bs, and campgrounds.  The local community really embraced the idea and made available opportunities for pre-registered attendees to go on a ghost walk, steamboat ride, and steam train ride as part of their con registration.

The Steamboat Inn
My airship (the Octavia XIII) was excited by the different activities and we reserved an entire B&B for ourselves.  I have to take a moment to mention the wonderful Steamboat Inn where we stayed.  It's a cute B&B with four guest rooms.  The decor is wonderfully Victorian and quite a bit steampunk.  The couple who run it, Kristin and Byron, were really excited about having the steampunks stay.  They made us extremely welcome and we spent a lot of time hanging out with them sharing drinks and chatting.

Jefferson is pretty far from anywhere, so we all had a 4-5 hour drive up on Friday morning.  We got in, dressed, and registered by late afternoon.  We wandered the town a bit, checked out the vendors, said hi to friends.  I attended the "Hairstyles for Steampunk Women" panel that evening at 8 because it's a topic I've been very interested in.  In fact, I'm working on a big post about steampunk hair.  It was an educational and informative panel.  I even offered myself up as a test subject and got a lovely updo.  (I consider myself a challenge due to the length of my hair and all the layers.)

That evening we had reservations for the Ghost Walk.  There was a large group of steampunks who showed up for the tour.  I have to admit to being a total skeptic when it comes to ghosts, but I'm also suggestible when it comes to scary things, so I was a bit creeped out at times.  If nothing else, it was an interesting tour of some of the historic sites of the town.  I did skip out a bit early due to difficulty with so much walking.

Saturday was also a pretty heavily scheduled day.  I presented a panel on corset making at noon, so my morning was spent getting dressed and getting everything ready for my panel.  It's too bad, because there were a couple of costuming panels I would have liked to see, but couldn't.  My panel went well.  My next goal was to get lunch and try to see some of the sites of Jefferson before our 4PM steamboat ride.  We went to eat at a local diner and it was honestly the worst dining experience I think I've ever had.  The service was bad, it took an hour to get our food, and when the food arrived it was so burnt that most of it was inedible.  So you can imagine how happy our group was at that point.  We at that point had to head out of Jefferson to Uncertain (Yes, there is a town called Uncertain, TX.  The highlight was The Church of Uncertain.) to catch our boat.  The boat was a steam-powered paddle boat from the 1860s.  We got a relaxing tour of Caddo Lake, which is pretty darn impressive, actually.

After our boat ride we needed food and beverage in the worst way (see horrible lunch experience) and we stopped at the Riverbend Restaurant on the recommendation of our B&B hostess.  Turns out we had met the manager the night before and he took great care of us.  The food was AMAZING.  The best hush puppies and cole slaw I've ever had!  The frog legs were also particularly good.  (I wish I could have had the catfish, but I'm allergic to fish *sob*.)  So, if you're ever in the area, EAT HERE.

Captain Cozmo with his loot.  
After a long day of activity that barely involved even showing our faces at the con, I was exhausted and retired to my bed with a heating pad.  I later ended up on our porch drinking a lot of beer with our hosts and the rest of the crew.  It was really lovely, but I know we were rather invisible from other con attendees.  I wish they had scheduled the bands to play Saturday night rather than from 4-7PM.  I'm not sure why that was, because there wasn't really much going on that night.

Sunday allowed us to visit with a few more steampunks early on, but then we turned to what we had been wanting to do all weekend: looking for awesome junk.  Jefferson is PACKED with antique stores and we had to check them out.  In fact, the town was prepared for the steampunk invasion and held a town-wide rummage sale on Saturday, specifically because they thought we might buy their stuff.  Some of my crew did go off and score some items while I was presenting my panel.  My husband got us another awesome antique suitcase.  I don't know what we're going to do with it yet, but I'll let you know when I do.

So, anyway, we spent many hours Sunday exploring the antique stores.  We all found items, and if I had had more cash, I would have bought more.  I got a couple small broken clocks to disassemble, some candle holders that will make nice additions to guns, and a really cool parasol.  My friend Carlene showed off her modified antique parasol over the weekend and inspired myself and another friend to buy our own parasols to recover.  Now I just need to find the right fabric...

Carlene and her awesome parasol.
We just scratched the surface of what Jefferson has to offer, both in terms of junk acquisition, and in terms of historical significance.  We didn't make it to any of the museums in town, several of which I really wanted to check out.  And as you might have guessed, we didn't actually make it to much of the con.  But that's ok.  We took advantage of all the out-of-the-ordinary opportunities our location provided us.  We will have another opportunity to attend our fellow steampunks' panels, but we won't always be able to ride a steamboat.  In fact, the whole weekend felt more like a vacation with friends than a con.  That's absolutely a plus.  But it does leave me in a weird place, in that I can't really say how the con was for other people.  I don't even have that clear an idea of how many people were there, since we were so spread out.

My husband and I.  
If I were going to change things about this event, there are a few little things.  First of all, I would try to find an indoor venue for the vendor area.  The vendors were set up in a parking lot, baking under the sun.  I imagine it was difficult to find a place large enough, but it would be better to be squished into a small space rather than have that area be so uncomfortable both for the vendors and the customers.  As I mentioned earlier, I would have scheduled the musical entertainment later at night, and focused more on evening entertainment.  There was also a need for more/better signs around town to help people find their way to the different venues.  In looking for one of the panel locations I drove past it three times and had no idea that was the place I was looking for.  I would also make an attempt at scheduling events so that there was less conflict between popular events, although that's always challenging.  (Saturday morning in particular was packed with events I was interested in, but I didn't get to attend them due to them either being two early, conflicting with my own panel at noon, or taking place at the same time as the rummage/yard sales.) It would also have been nice if there had been a central location to gather and socialize throughout the day, preferably with A/C and beverages.

I hope that this event becomes a yearly tradition, but whether it does or not, I know that Airship Octavia XIII will be returning to Jefferson.


  1. Steampunkers (or is it Steampunks?), Jefferson LOVES you! Thank you for being such a nice crowd and for devouring all our town has to offer (literally, three eateries had to stop serving early because they ran out of food!). I am sorry that you had even one bad eating experience. I am sure I know which restaurant you are talking about and I know the owner would bend over backwards to be sure you are pleased next time (tell her about your experience and see for yourself). Come back again. Tell us what you need (we have already figured out how to place vendors indoors). Jefferson is the best host in Texas. AND, we love to dress in costume.

    1. Thanks for the love. As I hope you can tell, it's mutual. Everyone was very welcoming and interested in us. Oh, and generally it's "steampunks", but I've heard steampunkers too. :)