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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Steampunk Alchemy Fest: Bridging Cosplay and Time Travel in the Dreamy Shade of Vasa Park

“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”

– a quote by Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist

Pulling onto the grass parking lot at Vasa Park, a 15-foot man with hoofed feet strides by, followed by a convoy of dinosaurs.

Vasa Park in Budd Lake was founded over a century ago as a fraternal benefit society for Swedish immigrants to the United States. Over the past century, the order has evolved and grown to meet the new needs of the Scandinavian American community. Today, Vasa provides members a means to share their rich heritage with fellow Americans, helping them to discover the values and ways of “the old country.”

Upon arrival, a family of dinosaurs walks by, two in motorized scooters and two dressed in full garb with a trail of twinkling bubbles. Later, one of the dinosaurs is spotted dancing with a butterfly. That’s what to expect at a fair that mixes science fiction, time travel, and retro-futuristic steam invention all in one.

Dinosaur and Nina of Big Whimsy Entertainment (butterfly), photo by L. Ward
Dinosaur and Nina of Big Whimsy Entertainment (butterfly). Photo by L. Ward.
Peter Basinski, Park Trustee, Event Coordinator, photo by L. Ward
Peter Basinski, Park Trustee, Event Coordinator, photo by L. Ward

Peter Basinski, IT and cyber security professional by day, spearheaded the event along with Colleen O’Neill-Cohen. He also lives in the park. “We have a homeowner’s section. I live here and I am one of the trustees of the park. In September, we have a ‘Night With the Green Fairy,’ an absinthe-tasting party. A Halo called Fred is the house band. What works is we were all friends first. It’s a passion project. I fell in love with the steampunk genre in 2011. The steampunk community was fractured down the middle, so I’m trying to help revive it in NJ. Alchemy suggests magic.”

“Vasa is an Order of America,” explains Basinski. “The mission was to spread Scandinavian culture. We’re already a cultural organization, we’re just expanding our definition of culture. I want to promote the arts. Everything is built around art, music, and culture. Without that, everything falls apart.”

Vasa Park shines as a premier place to spend the day, especially for an event of this magnitude – equipped with a snack bar, funnel cake and ice cream, full bar, and a pavilion as big as an authentic German beer hall. Loaded with picnic tables and shady spots, this park is ideal. It is spacious, with many trees and vibrant green grass, and plenty of space for vendors as well as the clubhouse. A photo booth tent was set up and perfectly illuminated the bright space surrounded by a field of yellow flowers.

Think Wizard of Oz.

Artifacts from The Museum of Interesting Things
Artifacts from The Museum of Interesting Things. Photo by Laura Ward.

The Museum of Interesting Things, owned by Denny Daniel, is an interactive exhibition of antiques and inventions. Daniel is also opening a secret speakeasy, showing vintage 16mm short films. “I travel to schools, libraries, and events showing people their iPhones did not pop out of the air. I have been part of steampunk for over a decade. It’s a very cultural style, a combo of art, literature, history, and updates to current culture. I like that juxtaposition, dichotomy, and mix, of smart and creative,” explained Daniel. He then presented the Nickelodeon, also called a mutoscope, installed with a 1910 movie: Trip to the Moon by French director Georges Méliès, inspired by Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon.

Spider made by Cicada from Tunder-Lings. Photo by L. Ward.
Spider made by Cicada from Tunder-Lings. Photo by L. Ward.

Cicada, owner of Tündér-Lings, featuring handmade art dolls, explains, “I love the environment. Steampunk is more (about) time travel to me. It’s the aesthetic of the style of gears and mechanics, which isn’t exactly my style, but I do the fantastic, metaphysical, and the metamorphosis of creatures among that world. Mythological creations are beyond the imagination. I don’t use predetermined things, everything is handmade.”

Handmade, up-cycled inventions by a Hudson Valley artist. Photo by L. Ward
Handmade, up-cycled inventions by a Hudson Valley artist. Photo by L. Ward

Other vendors at the festival included Lauren Elyse, of Dragon Duck Creations, featuring mixed media collage. In her work, she is interested in “ignoring the rules of time and bringing anachronistic concepts.”

Display and cosplay, Kingdom of the Arc. Photo by L. Ward
Display and cosplay, Kingdom of the Arc. Photo by L. Ward

Tara Wright of Burlington County, NJ, sits and knits, while watching her husband loudly fence off an opponent. She is Queen today, hailing from The Kingdom of Acre. “We do historical recreations of various arts and sciences. We have an event once a month- martial activities, fencing, and archery, and, for the folks who don’t do martial arts, there are fiber crafts:  spinning wool, knitting, embroidery, calligraphy, and illumination.”

Ryder Cooley, of Hudson Valley NY, is the faery leader of the dark carnival band Dust Bowl Faeries. “Steampunk is inclusive and flexible in how it is defined and interpreted- about the individual, a mixture of the old world and the new world and the future, so past and future combined, Victorian and outer space and cyborg,” says Cooley. “I am a singer and songwriter and play the accordion and musical saw. My grandmother played accordion and she loved to sing. So, she is my inspiration.”

Cooley is a calm, gracefully disposed individual with a tattoo of a sailing vessel in blue ink on her arm. Her long woodland creature-like eyelashes do not flinch as a tiny spider is brushed away from the ship on her am. When asked about her writing, Cooley explains it’s “mostly lyrics, specialty dark cabaret, dark tragic tales on the bleak side with a sense of humor. The collaborative, full band is five musicians with a guest, sometimes six. Today, we are here as a trio. Actually, we are a quartet with Hazel, our spirit animal taxidermy ram.”

Jeff Marshall, owner and creator of the vending booth Into Leather, said he’s been doing this for fifty years, “classic leather tooling, saddles, and when COVID hit I wanted a plate doctor mask. I was walking around ShopRite, and someone said ‘oh, you’re into steampunk?’ So, then I got into it (steampunk).”

Wet plate Colonial prints, tin metal photos by John Milleketer Photographer . Photo by L. Ward.
Wet plate Colonial prints, tin metal photos by John Milleketer Photographer . Photo by L. Ward.

Christine Milleker of John Milleker Photography, dressed in colonial new age metallic blue (which harmonizes with the blueprint kit they sell), tells Ridge View Echo “Cyanotype was invented around 1848 by Sir John Herschel, a mathematician and astronomer who discovered many of the moons of Jupiter. He also had a lot to offer the photographic community. He made the first fixer, which took unexposed silver and got rid of it, so it didn’t destroy the photos.”

Milleker concluded, “Today we are making wet plate colonial prints, tin types, on metal vs. glass, amber type invented 1848. Same process, different substrate… Yes, we go to steampunk, Civil War, and wild west events.”

To learn more about this event visit:

Laura Ward with long pink earrings on
Laura Ward, Contributing Writer

Laura Ward is a gallerist at Infloressense in Belvidere, NJ, whose motto is "poetic synthesis of all the cultural arts." Born in West Orange, NJ, Ward had a unique childhood growing up in a three-story, three-generation, 1895 Victorian where she learned gardening with her great-grandfather, theater with her grandmother, and typing with her mom. Ward spent the last two decades in the architectural design industry, followed by her present pursuit into the entrepreneurial world of art and event planning. Ward lives in the esoteric Delaware Village Historic District and volunteers at Ramsaysburg Historic Homestead. Ward spent 11 years in Florida where she graduated with an English B.A. from FAU and later The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale with an art history minor.