The Steampunk World

Being the continued explorations of a living steampunk.

The steampunk world is all around us, lying just out of sight, in a continuous thread of steampunk builders and culture that extends from the Victorian era to the present. You'll find no science fiction here: This is real life steampunk.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Location: Illinois, USA

The most striking steampunk features of Chicago are its Elevated trains, museums, boulevards, and moving bridges.  All four come to us directly from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.  The Columbian Exposition may well have been the beginning of the end for the Victorian age- electricity was becoming common, inventions were transforming common lives, people were traveling at 80 mph in Pullman coaches to see a glorious White City displaying all the glory that the hope and innovation of the previous century had promised.  The future had arrived.

Chicago was rebuilt for the Fair.  The boulevards and Elevated were modeled on Paris and decorated with newfangled "con-crete" sculptures and glorious riveted wrought iron.  The Science and Industry museum is the remains of the White City- a plaster paradise encompassing Washington and Jackson parks.  Over a quarter of the U.S. population attended to be introduced to zippers, the ferris wheel, Cream of Wheat, Aunt Jemima, Juicy Fruit, picture postcards, carbonated soda, and a little local brew named Pabst that won the Blue Ribbon.  This was the birth of consumerism and the end of simplicity.

Let's take a look at what remains of that amazing event.

The Elevated

The El's construction began around 1870, with rail-based mass transit peaking in the 50s until GM bought up the red car (I bet you thought Roger Rabbit was fiction, didn't you?).  Some of the loop stations still have gorgeous wrought iron and vintage ads.  How can you not think steampunk with this thing roaring overhead all the time?

For more on the history of the Elevated, see:

The Museum

Little obsessed with the Greeks weren't they?

The Boulevards

They aren't much to look at, but they're wonderful to hang out on.  Apple trees were widely used as decoration.  And they're infested with parrots.

Why are there wild parrots in Chicago?  See:

The Bridges

Chicago has more moving bridges than any other city in the world.  At one time they numbered in the 60s, now they're in the 40s and dropping.  As a transportation hub Chicago not only sits on the Great Lakes but reversed the flow of its river and dug a canal across the continental divide, connecting the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Gulf of Mexico.

Most of them are Trunion-Bascule bridges:

A mere 100hp motor lifts these giant, counterweighted bridges.

Some have the gearing up on top- that ridged, toothed semicircle is the "big" gear to the motor's "small" gear:

(This Cortland bridge was the first trunnion-bascule bridge ever built, and it's still there... for now)

R.I.P. North Avenue bridge, demolished last fall because no buyer could be found.

I was on my way to take some pictures of the insides of these bridges when my buddy fell into the bascule pit, breaking his leg.  I had to pull him out of there and postpone my picture-taking.  But I'll get photos- and movies- of the guts of these things when they lift.

This one is a vertical lift bridge, one of very few operational ones.  The bridgetender sits in the house and rides up and down.  This one goes up maybe five times a day in the summer.

side view:

I took this picture today, of Chicago as seen from the Amtrak locomotive barn next to a pair of very large truss-bascule bridges (one is up, one is down with a train going across it).

For more on Chicago's awesome bridges, see:

For a wonderful website about the Columbian Exposition, see:

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