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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Today, November 6,  is a historical day. On this day, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States. Then, one year later, on this same date, November 6, in 1861,  Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederate States of America. So what better day to mention a part of actual Civil War history that would work well with Steampunk? I’m speaking of the Balloon Corp, also known as the Aeronautics Department.

Would you like to ride in my Union Corp balloon
Would you like to ride in my Union Corp balloon
We could float above the war together, you and I
For we can fly, we can fly

What could be more Steampunk than a balloon air force? This innovative department fell under the command of Professor Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe. The balloon corp soon led to the creation of the first aircraft carrier. Chief Aeronaut, Lowe, had a coal barge converted by covering the hull with a flat deck for inflating and launching balloons. Also the first aerial telegram ever sent was from one of the balloons to President Lincoln. In a demonstration for the President, while Lowe flew his balloon, the Enterprise, over the armory lawn across the street from the White house, he sent Lincoln a telegram, describing the aerial-view of Washington D C. All of this also led to the invention of a portable gas generating device that could be used anywhere. Professor Thaddeus Lowe invented a copper-lined wooden tank, mounted on a wagon filled with water and iron filings. When sulfuric acid was added, lighter-than-air hydrogen gas was produced. That hydrogen was then fed through a hose to a cooler before pumping it into the balloon. So the balloons could be inflated near any battlefield. The horse-drawn wagons were large and rectangular, each weighting about 1,000 pounds. They built twelve of these wagons to service the balloons.

That is one of the great things about Lowe as a Steampunk character or secondary character, he was not only a famous aeronaut, he was quite a scientist. The portable gas generators that filled his balloons and the compression ice machine that introduced “artificial” ice to the world are among his inventions. He’ was also known to be quite a showman and he wrote his own memoirs, Memoirs of Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, Chief of the Aeronautic Corps of the Army of the United States During the Civil War: My Balloons in Peace and War.

Maeve-with a confederate solder’s gun at a historic reenactment area at Dickens On The Strand in Galveston TX
“Give me your silk dresses or I’ll shoot.”

Not to be outdone, the Confederates made their own balloons. In 1862, 21-year-old, confederate  Captain, John Randolph Bryan piloted a hot-air balloon near Yorktown, Virginia. They inflated the balloon with the heat and smoke of burning pine knots soaked in turpentine. However, the hot air quickly cooled and grew denser so the South’s flights were of short duration. In the summer of that year, 1862, the Confederates got there own gas balloon. Known as the “Silk Dress Balloon”, it was a patchwork affair. Here is a link to view the fabric from one of the confederate balloons.

Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, in a letter published in Century magazine, wrote: “We longed for the balloons that poverty denied us. A genius arose for the occasion and suggested that we send out and gather together all the silk dresses in the Confederacy and make a balloon. It was done, and soon we had a great patchwork ship of many and varied hues.” It turns out this  fanciful tale was not true. The Silk Dress Balloon was sewn together from 40-feet of  purchased, multicolored dress silks. Inflated with city gas and moved to desired locations by railroad, the balloon made several flights A second dress silk balloon was constructed that summer and remained in operation until it was lost during the siege of Charleston. The rebels inability to generate gas in the field was their balloon corp’s biggest obstacle.

Another Steampunk vibe to the Balloon Corp is a slight Zeppelin connection. Ferdinand Von Zeppelin came to the U.S. in 1863, during the civil war, as an official observer of  Union troops in Northern Virginia. Before he returned home, he wanted to see more of the U. S.  He journeyed to New York City,  then up the Hudson, and across the state on the Erie Canal, then across the Great Lakes and out into Minnesota. There, he met  John Steiner, one of Lowe’s aeronauts, who had returned to his pre-war occupation of an exhibition balloonist. As Zeppelin flew with him, Steiner shared his dream of a navigable airship. The count credited the experience with marking the beginning of his own interest in aeronautics.

Please feel free to leave comments or questions.

~      ~      ~

Maeve Alpin, who also write as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 19 published books. Her latest Steampunk/Romance is Conquistadors In Outer Space. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

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uniforms Lolita Cindy here, phoning this one in. I’ve got a hard deadline in two days and on the third, I’m headed off to Pandoracon to participate as a panelist on the writers’ track. So wish me luck!

On another note, the spouse and I have officially joined the ranks of the HMS, RAF Defiance, based out of Royal Oak Michigan. I’m joining the crew as resident naturalist, and the tall, dapper gent with me is Rear Admiral Pape, currently aboard on part of a hush-hush diplomatic mission. The real story is, since his jacket came with that insignia, he had to come up with a story to match it, so he didn’t usurp the authority of Captain Sir Benjamin Despard, who so kindly welcomed us aboard.

Creating uniforms from scratch was a fun, long-term project for us. We assembled them piece by piece, either from thrift shops or clearance sales. Here’s the break-down.

Mine: skirt (split riding skirt) clearance from Recollections. (That they happened to have one clearance piece, my size, even in short, still amazes me.) This formed the basis for my uniform. Jacket was from Torrid, also clearance mail order. Corset, underneath, is my old Corset-Story basic black. White blouse underneath, straight out of my closet, black tie filched from one of the offspring. My standard steampunk boots are vintage Salvation Army My hat was $8 at an Army surplus store, and I picked up the hatpin there too. It’s a French parachuting insignia. The ribboned medals I’m wearing are from Spectra Nova and others are from random thrift finds. Total cost of uniform, roughly $100, over the course of 6 months or so, and most of the parts can be worn separately, the coat even in real life.

The hubby is wearing a vintage Detroit Fire Chief’s coat, found at the local antique mall for about #30. His US Navy pants, $7 or so at a thrift shop. Medals again are random thrift bits, and his Royal Canadian Mounted Police hat was all of $20. White shirt, black tie, black boots, straight out of his closet. The goggles were bought so long ago, I don’t remember where or how much. Total cost, maybe $70.

We’ll be rocking these as representatives of the Defiance at Pandoracon. I hope this post sparks an idea or two for anyone who’s been hesitant about costuming. Get creative. Thrift shops are your friends!

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Photo by Richard Alois

Photo by Richard Alois

Gothic London, its varied history, and just getting to and from places has kept me so busy and exhausted over the past month that I’ve shirked my duties as guest blogger for STEAMED. My apologies. Even now as I write this, I’m on a bus to the train station to see the editor of Gearhearts Steampunk Glamour Revue, Patricia Ash. Unlike most places in the USA (and even many in the UK), traveling in London can be an all-day affair. If I’m out of the flat (and not indulging in a frothy mocha at a Starbucks), I’m either on a bus, on the tube, or walking up to 10 miles a day exploring this glorious city. I’ve even hired a Barclay Bicycle and tooled around a bit. Great fun. It’s not unusual that I get totally lost walking from here to there, even with my Mini A to Z, discovering many wondrous things along the way. Things, of course, that I would unlikely ever be able to find again.

I highly recommend going on guided walks in London on your visit, but not through London Walks. Although they have a varied menu of walks, it’s really hit or miss with the guide and crowd. It’s not unusual for them to have 50-100 people on a walk, and then it’s a big mess. You can’t hear the guide and your constantly moving with a huge crowd. Not fun.

For you Gothic Ghost Story fans, I can’t recommend the walks hosted by Richard Jones enough. He came highly recommended to me by my writerly colleague Leanna Renee Hieber. Richard has written something like twenty-three books on haunted London. Leanna used some of his ghosts in her fabulous Strangely Beautiful series.

Last week I had the great pleasure of meeting Richard and talking about publishing and marketing with him between the stops on the Sweeney Todd Haunted Walking Tour, which I thoroughly enjoyed. His dramatic presentation of ghost stories and history is fabulously entertaining. On his walk, I learned that many of the churchyards throughout London are higher than the rest of the city. This is because in the early 19th century, they were quite literally burying people on top of one another. The gravediggers would dig up a grave, move the existing bones out of the way, wait until after the current mourners were done saying their goodbyes, and then they’d slip the bones back in the new grave.

In the 1830s, a law was passed that closed many of the overrun graveyards in The City of London, including the Cross Bones Graveyard, on which I wrote about in June 2013. At this time, cemeteries were set up around the perimeter of London, like Kensal Green Cemetery, close to where I stay while in London. I’ll be visiting Kensal Green Cemetery shortly, and I’ll hopefully have a report on their catacombs! Seven of these cemeteries were built, known affectionately as the Magnificent Seven.

There was also a practice called “fishing” among grave robbers. Grave robbing could be a lucrative business at £12-15 per body (a considerable amount of money then), but it was also against the law. Grave robbers had to get in and out quickly before the cemetery security watch made their way back around. Family members would arrange things on the fresh grave in a particular way so they’d know if the grave had been disturbed. Thus, the grave robbers would first take note on how things, flowers and tokens and such, were arranged on the grave. Then they’d dig a thin notch across near the top of the grave, crack open the coffin with their shovel, and lower a rope down into the coffin and around the corpse. They’d pull the body out of the grave, strip it of it’s clothes and jewelry, for it was death if caught stealing personal property. A dead body, however, just carried a hearty fine. They’d put everything back the way they found it and then sell the corpses to doctors and medical schools for research.

There are hundreds of thousands of graves all over London, in the many churchyards as well as in larger cemeteries like Brompton Cemetery, also one of the Magnificent Seven. I visited Brompton Cemetery my first week here because it appears in my book Avalon Revisited. I rode a Barclay Bicycle through the ancient grounds in awe. This is where my characters Arthur and Avalon discovered the resurrected Pembertons.
O. M. Grey in London

O. M. Grey in London

I’ve had a lovely time visiting historical places, Harry Potter filming locations, and all the places in my books. I’ve made a preliminary map for readers interested in seeing the settings themselves. Perhaps 2014 will bring a proper O. M. Grey and Leanna Renee Hieber tour of London.

For now, I’ll take my leave until (hopefully) two weeks from now when I’ll have more Gothic Goodies to share. Until then, more mochas, more exploration, more walking and then even more walking.

-_Q

Olivia M. Grey lives in the cobwebbed corners of her mind writing paranormal romance with a Steampunk twist, like the Amazon Gothic Romance bestseller Avalon Revisited. Her short stories and poetry have been published in various magazines and anthologies, like SNM Horror Magazine and How the West Was Wicked. Ms. Grey also blogs and podcasts relationship essays covering such topics as alternative lifestyles, deepening intimacy, ending a relationship with love and respect, and other deliciously dark and decadent matters of the heart and soul.

Read more by O. M. Grey on her blog Caught in the Cogs, http://omgrey.wordpress.com

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With the Victorians’ fascination with death and mourning, ghosts blend in so well with Steampunk stories. When I think of ghost, I often think of a haunted Victorian mansion, lit by candlelight or flickering gas lights, secret passage ways draped with cobwebs, slits cut in the eyes of a potrait  where someone or something spies on the gents and ladies in the grand manor.

DEBUNKING:

The first thing all ghost hunters do is try to find logical causes for reported paranormal activity.

  • Animals:

Look for small, furry, scurrying creatures. Sneaky varmints like mice are good at hiding. They cause strange noises and knock things down without being seen. Victorian London had a lot of mice and rats and such. Also ghostly noises in walls, attics, and basements are often caused by varmits of some type.

  • Houses:

Victorian homes had hardwood floors which cause house popping noises to often sound like phantom footsteps. Also air trapped in water pipes cause loud banging at random times. Doors opening or closing by themselves can be attributed to a house which has a good seal. Opening or closing an exterior door can create suction, so an interior door will move when the exterior door moves. Having two or more windows open can have the same effect on interior doors. Also if a gush of wind enters through one window and exits through another, the reduced air pressure may cause doors to open or close.

  • Food, Drink…Sunspot:

Cynical or logical Victorians often cited sunspot and strong drink as causes of ghost sightings.  In Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, Scrooge questioned if the ghostly vissage of Jacob Marley was caused by what he’d eaten earlier that day. “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are.”

Victorian Ghost

Victorian Ghost – Aetherfest

  • Modern:

Compass – The simplest piece, which fits in perfectly with Steampunk. During any type of paranormal activity, a compass will spin wildly.

KII Meters – read electromagnetic fields. If the meter spikes on these small, handheld devices, it reflects a change in the magnetic field, which along with other evidence can give proof to paranormal activity.

Mel Meters – measure both EMF and temperature. They allow paranormal investigators to record the temperature right where it’s at. After Gary Galka lost his oldest daughter Melisa, in a car accident, he created the Mel meter, named after her, to communicate with her after death as it helped his healing process. The model numbers in the Mel-8704 are the year of her birth and the year of her passing.

Recording Devices – to pick up EVP, electronic voice phenomena (White Noise). EVP began in the 1950’s when Fredrich Jurgenson, a bird watcher and retired opera singer, recorded bird calls near his home in  Switzerland on a reel to reel. When he listened to the tapes he heard voices on them, though no one else had been there. An ancient Viking burial ground happened to exist in the area he recorded at. After discovering this he continued EVP research and wrote the book, Voices From the Universe.

  • Victorian & Steampunk Alternatives:

Recording Devicesto pick up EVP prior to 1950:

Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville – invented the phonautograph in 1860 –Records Sound, but Doesn’t Reproduce It  – you’d have to fix that in your story.

Thomas Edison invented the Phonograph,  1877 when he made his first sound recordings on sheets of tinfoil. In 1888, he developed a solid wax cylinder record.

Victorian Ghost Hunting Gear:

Ectoplasm Kit – In the Victorian era, ectoplasm was defined as a substance exuded from a medium while in a trance. Ectoplasm formulated into the shape of the spirit the medium was in touch with at the time. Ghost hunters carried a collecting set and chemistry equipment to gather and test any ectoplasm.

Electroscope –  Electroscopes, which pick up static electricity have been around for centuries and could have been used in placce of an  EMF meter, which along with other evidence could prove paranormal activity.

Victorian Ghosts - Comicpalooza 2013

Victorian Ghosts – Comicpalooza 2013

Victorian alternatives to communicating with the dead:

Seances – Engrossed in spiritualism and Gothic novels, many Victorians, haunted by ghost, held table rapping séances

Ouija Board – a popular board game, patened in 1890 http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/WebOuija.html

Steampunk Ghost Hunting:

Steampunk Ghost Hunting Gear

Steampunk Ghostly Tales

And last but not least – GHOSTLY STEAMPUNK READS:

4105jhfVChL__The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker
by Leanna Renee Hieber

There is no unusual machinery in the story so I would not call it steampunk but still if you like steampunk you will like it. It’s set in Victoria England in London and involves ghost and gods. The characters are strong and haunting. It is a strangley beautiful paranormal/romance that I loved and I highly recommend it.

untitledGhost by Gaslight – edited by Jack Dann & Nick Gevers

This collection of seventeen Steampunk ghost stories, one has mummies, is outstanding. The authors are representative of some of the best speculative fiction authors of our modern time. It offers quite a variety of superb steampunk ghost stores. There is something for everyone in this anthology and you will be sure to claim a few as your favorite steampunk short stories. I loved it.

ToLoveALondonGhost_200To Love A London Ghost by Maeve Alpin

When Queen Victoria orders Sexton Dukenfield, premiere phantom hunter, to track down England’s missing ghost he stumbles into Ceridwen, a phantom warrior woman of an ancient Celtic tribe. Not only does he find her intriguing as a piece of the puzzle of the missing spirits, but he’s also haunted by her sultry sensuality. Though they both burn with desire, it’s difficult to quench their fiery passion since Ceridwen is so translucent. Every time Sexton touches her, his hands pass through her misty body. On a mission through the bustling narrow streets of London, to a dreary match factory, and even to the Otherworld and back, to stop a genius scientist and his phantasm debilitater machine, the ghost and the ghost hunter also seek the secret to freeing the boundaries of life and death.

If you live in Houston Texas, I wanted to share that I will be at one of my favorite haunts this weekend, Space City Con. Friday night, 08/02/13, I’m presenting a Steampunk Ghost Hunting panel from 7pm – 8:30pm. Please drop by if you can.

~

Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 18 published books, including four Steampunk Romances. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

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1860RickettSteamCarriage_zpsf033c0ee

As promised last month, meet another piece of historical Steampunk technology: The Rickett Carriage. This steam-powered car was made in 1860 by Thomas Rickett, a Castle Foundry manager in Buckingham. His impressive work with steam engines inspired the Marquess of Stafford to order a steam carriage. It had a maximum speed of 19mph. Here is how Wikipedia describes it:

This vehicle had three wheels, the single wheel at the front, and a rear-mounted coal-fired boiler and two-cylinder engine. The boiler pressure was 110 psi, and the cylinders had a bore of 76 mm and stroke of 178 mm. Transmission was by chain to the right-hand rear wheel. A maximum speed of 19 mph was claimed. A boilerman was seated at the rear, and three passengers could sit side by side at the front with the one on the right operating a tiller steering and the regulator, reversing lever and brake. The wheels had iron “tyres”, with the brakes operating on the rear wheels.

Rickett made a second model with a slightly different style for an Earl who used the car to drive an astounding 146 miles in Scotland!

Historically, the machine was short-lived and not terribly many sold, even for the low, low price of £200, but in my novel, Nickie Nick the Vampire Hunter reads about them in the paper and even sees one for herself!

This magnificent machine made it into my teen paranormal romance novel in a chapter called “Nickie Nick Sees a Rickett.” My description of a Rickett in The Zombies of Mesmer:

The alley was quiet this time when I emerged, and the smell of the blood was fading in the freshly falling snow. I went up to the mouth of the alley and stood just out of the light from the nearby gaslamp. The night had barely begun and the streets were rather busy with carriages and full of the sounds of clopping hoofbeats. My mind went back to the beautiful stranger. Where had he come from? Where had he gone to? One hears stories about how something very bad could be happening in an alleyway just adjacent a very busy street, but no one comes to help. I found that hard to believe before tonight.

Yet he had come to help. He had probably saved Conrad’s life.

And he knew vampires existed, that was a definite benefit.

Then the strangest contraption caught my eye. It was a carriage without a horse, clattering down the street with the rest of the carriages. Being the daughter of industrialists, I certainly was not ignorant of modern machinery. After all, mother and father had some quite impressive steam machines that facilitated production in their textile factory. Even Franklin himself came up with truly ingenious inventions just from assembling junk and such, but this was like nothing I had ever seen up close. It looked every bit like a carriage, only instead of four wheels, it only had three, two large ones in back and a smaller one in front. From the large back wheels, chains ran from gears on the wheels to other gears extending from an axle beneath the carriage’s floor. A man sat on the right, fully dressed for the evening in a top hat and fine overcoat, holding onto the steering rod with his left hand and another lever with his right. A woman wrapped in a fur stole and earmuffs sat beside him.

Stepping up to get a closer look as the thing puttered by, I saw that there was a mechanism beneath the carriage floor that turned the gears, which in turn, turned the wheels. I stooped down to get a look of the thing from beneath, but it had already passed. There on the back sat the engine. It looked like a coal boiler and a long pipe extending up from it belched out steam.

“Interesting, no? A far cry from a penny-farthing,” a smooth voice above me said. I stood up quickly to find that it was none other than my beautiful stranger.

“Yes. It is a Rickett Carriage. I read about them, but I have never seen one before. Simply amazing,” I responded calmly, although some rather large fluttery things had taken up residence in my stomach.

“You read, do you? Also interesting. This evening is just full of surprises, is it not, Nick?”

“How do you know my name.” It came out as a whisper, for I was breathless. He filled my world. It was as if all of London fell away from my vision, and there was only him. Black eyes twinkling in the gaslight. One side of his cinnamon lips curled up in a half-smile. Pale skin covered in soot and jaw-hugging sideburns. I shivered, and it was not the cold December night that caused it.

“Your friend said it before. It is beneficial to pay attention to the details in life, don’t you find? I am called Ashe.” He offered a gloved hand. “We were not properly introduced before.”

I took his hand and gave it a manly shake, which was not too difficult with my new strength.

“Strong, too, for such a young lad,” he said, putting his hand back in his pocket.

I felt my brows furrow at this. He thought me a boy, and a kid at that. I was no kid. I was The Protector, after all.

“I’m not all that young.” I deepened my voice perhaps a little too much. My cheeks suddenly felt very hot and flushed, so I turned my face into the cold wind and let the snowflakes cool my no-doubt-rosy-cheeks down. “Bet I’m as old as you.”

Great. That sounded quite mature, Nicole.

“Do you now?” he said. “Thought I told you to stay safe and inside. This is no place for children. Where is your friend. Is he all right?”

I bit my lip to stop from scolding this infuriating man, and I turned back to him, ready to do so anyway. As soon as I caught his eyes again, however, I was unable to speak. Literally. The ability to form words completely escaped me.

Read the rest of the Chapter, or even more of the book, for free on my blog, Caught in the Cogs, or get your very own copy from Amazon.

Return again in two weeks to learn more about real history in fiction.

-_Q

 

Olivia M. Grey lives in the cobwebbed corners of her mind writing paranormal romance with a Steampunk twist, like the Amazon Gothic Romance bestseller Avalon Revisited. Her short stories and poetry have been published in various magazines and anthologies, like SNM Horror Magazine and How the West Was Wicked. Ms. Grey also blogs and podcasts relationship essays covering such topics as alternative lifestyles, deepening intimacy, ending a relationship with love and respect, and other deliciously dark and decadent matters of the heart and soul.

Read more by O. M. Grey on her blog Caught in the Cogs, http://omgrey.wordpress.com

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I love cemeteries. Always have. In college, we had a particularly old one in the historic Texas town where I grew up. Sam Houston, once president of Texas, is buried there among the ancient tombstones and moss-covered monuments. Two of the most popular statues therein are those college students referred to as the Black Jesus, a bronze statue of Christ, and the Angel of Death, a quite beautiful statue of an angel whose crevices are stained with mildew. One, by the way, I would view quite differently now after BLINK (as Whovians would understand). We’d go there in the middle of the night, tripping on whatever psychedelic we had taken that night in the early 90s, and talk, dream, philosophize, etc. After reading Anne Rice my freshman year, my Gothic nature was both defined and solidified.

My fiction leans more toward the Gothic fantasy side of Steampunk than the highly technological science fiction side of Steampunk’s beginnings. Sure, my work has sprinklings of fantastic Steampunk technology, but the dark themes of my work almost always deal with death and loss in one way or another. From my Gothic short stories, like the erotic, Steampunk Chronicle’s Readers’ Choice Award-winning “A Kiss in the Rain” to my novels Avalon Revisited and The Zombies of Mesmer, when it comes to my taste in fiction, reading or writing it: the darker, the better.

Imagine my delight when I discovered the Cross Bones Graveyard in my research, home of “The Outcast Dead.” Stretching back to medieval times, the graveyard became home to the unwanted, the poor, and the working girls between the 16th to 19th centuries. Those too poor to be buried properly in hallowed ground at the nearby Southwark Cathedral, then known as St. Saviour’s, found their final resting place at Cross Bones. Many a prostitute throughout that time, including the infamous “Winchester Geese,” prostitues licensed to work by the Bishop of Winchester, from the 18th century, are among the hundreds buried in this tiny plot of land. In 1853, the graveyard was closed “on the grounds that it was ‘completely overcharged with dead’ and that ‘further burials’ would be ‘inconsistent with a due regard for the public health and public decency’.”

In 1990, a partial excavation was done at the site, removing some 148 skeletons. It’s estimated that’s less that 1% of all the 15,000 buried on those tiny grounds.

Situated on Redcross Way, it’s iron gates have become a colorful shrine to the forgotten dead as well as others lost by visitors. Glorious colorful ribbons and roses cover the entrance to this once-shamed place, telling its inhabitants and the world that every decent person is worthy of respect and remembrance, despite their livelihood or economic status.

The amazing Julie Mollins, the same reporter who wrote an article on me for Reuters in 2011, reported on Cross Bones and John Constable, the man who breathed life back into the graveyard with The Southwark Mysterys plays and monthly ritual honoring the forgotten dead.

Next month, I’ll be traveling to London in part to plan an O. M. Grey Tour of London for 2014, where I will personally take readers to the places found in my novels and short stories. On that tour that will take us all from Bedlam to Gray’s Inn Road to Hyde Park and beyond, the Cross Bones Graveyard will be one of the many stops in the Gothic borough of Southwark.

The Cross Bones Graveyard appears in my forthcoming novel The Ghosts of Southwark, the sequel to The Zombies of Mesmer: A Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter Novel which is available on Amazon, Kindle, and serialized on my blog for free, either in print or via podcast.

-_Q

Olivia M. Grey lives in the cobwebbed corners of her mind writing paranormal romance with a Steampunk twist, like the Amazon Gothic Romance bestseller Avalon Revisited. Her short stories and poetry have been published in various magazines and anthologies, like SNM Horror Magazine and How the West Was Wicked. Ms. Grey also blogs and podcasts relationship essays covering such topics as alternative lifestyles, deepening intimacy, ending a relationship with love and respect, and other deliciously dark and decadent matters of the heart and soul.

Read more by O. M. Grey on her blog Caught in the Cogs, http://omgrey.wordpress.com

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The lovely Lolitas of STEAMED! have asked me to contribute twice a month, and I am quite honored to do so. Initially, at least, my articles will revolve around the interesting historical tidbits of the Victorian Era that appear in my novels and stories.

One my favorite things about writing Steampunk is the research. It’s fascinating, really. So often in my fiction, I incorporate historical people or events or places or even technology. My imagination for technology is rather limited, I’m afraid, as my strengths as a writer are characterization, emotional depth, and dialogue. Technology and world-building are far down the list, so I work with what’s already there, although much of what I incorporate into my work has been all but lost to history. These little-known facts and events and gadgets find new life in my work. With that splendid thing known as creative license, I embellish and bend historical events and 19th century technology to fit the needs of my story.

Today, I’ll focus on The Air Loom: The Human Influencing Machine, something devised in 1810, even before the Victoria’s Reign began in 1837. While doing research on the notorious Bedlam (Bethlehem Hospital, aka Bethlem) Asylum for a guest post called “Lunatics in London” for Bitten by Books during a blog tour, I watched a fascinating documentary on the infamous hospital. Within, they introduced one James Tilly Matthews, the first documented paranoid schizophrenic. I was immediately fascinated by this person and his concept of The Air Loom, so I vowed to work it into my next novel.

In my Steampunk teen romance The Zombies of Mesmer, we visit the horrible Bethlehem Asylum. Although set in 1880, my Bedlam’s halls contain the misery and pain seen in the hospital in Matthews’ time there. After being released from a three-year stint in a French prison for suspicion of being a double agent, Matthews returned to London and proceeded to accuse the Home Secretary of treason in a rather dramatic and publicly disruptive way. Matthews was committed to Bethlem Asylum in 1797 as a lunatic. Fortunately for Matthews, a resident of the hospital for over a decade, he had a relatively cushy room there and ended up drawing plans for the renovation of Bethlem Hospital among many other helpful things. In 1810, he wrote a book called Illustrations of Madness in which he illustrated the influencing machine in great detail both in design and description of purpose. Matthews believed that scientist spies, experts in “pneumatic chemistry,” had set up near Bedlam and was tormenting him by means of rays emitted from The Air Loom.

The Air Loom was a piece of advanced technology, but in the early part of the industrial age advanced technology often meant enormous machinery, rather than the increasing minutarisation that characterise the 21st century. The Air Loom was enormous. The mechanism stood seven metres tall and occupied a footprint of nine square metres, and it was constructed from oak with machined brass fittings.

It was surrounded by barrels that fed noxious gases through oiled leather pipes into the main body of the machine. The gases were derived from substances including ‘gas from the horse’s anus’, ‘seminal fluid’, ‘putrid human breath’ and ‘effluvia of dogs’. (Source)

The machine’s rays exacted such horrendous tortures onto Matthews’ mind like “kiteing,” where ideas were forced into his brain; “thought-making,” where thoughts were removed and replaced by others of the scientist’s choosing; and Lobster Cracking, where “the external pressure of the magnetic atmosphere surrounding the person assailed was increased, ‘so as to stagnate his circulation, impede his vital motions, and produce instant death’.” Other torments included “lengthening of the brain,” “thigh talking,” “fluid locking,” and “bomb bursting.”

Read more about this fascinating machine and see images of The Air Loom, built by artist Rod Dickinson using Matthews’ illustrations at http://www.theairloom.org.

An altered version of The Air Loom appears in my forthcoming novel The Ghosts of Southwark, the sequel to The Zombies of Mesmer: A Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter Novel which is available on Amazon, Kindle, and serialized on my blog for free, either in print or via podcast.

-_Q

Olivia M. Grey lives in the cobwebbed corners of her mind writing paranormal romance with a Steampunk twist, like the Amazon Gothic Romance bestseller Avalon Revisited. Her short stories and poetry have been published in various magazines and anthologies, like SNM Horror Magazine and How the West Was Wicked. Ms. Grey also blogs and podcasts relationship essays covering such topics as alternative lifestyles, deepening intimacy, ending a relationship with love and respect, and other deliciously dark and decadent matters of the heart and soul.

Read more by O. M. Grey on her blog Caught in the Cogs, http://omgrey.wordpress.com

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