Converging Histories Festival to Bring Past into Focus

Serena Runyan

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Photo by Marra Clay

The Kirkman House Museum is a Victorian Italian house that was built between 1876 and 1880, and it was the home to one of Walla Walla’s most affluent families, the Kirkmans. The house was a boys’ dormitory for Whitman College from 1924 to 1929, and it was later an apartment building for 50 years before becoming a museum showcasing the Victorian era in which Walla Walla was created. 

On Friday, Nov. 8 and Saturday, Nov. 9, the Kirkman House Museum will host the Festival of Converging Histories: A Fusion of Steampunk and Victorian. Activities available include a tour of the museum, a grand ball, a variety show and a psychic fair.

Rick Tuttle is the president of the Board of Directors and webmaster for the Kirkman House Museum. For this upcoming event, Tuttle decided to expand on last year’s Victorian Ball by including a new element: steampunk.

Whitman Development Officer Donna Gardner, a former board president for the Kirkman House, explained that the idea to include steampunk was the result of Tuttle and his wife, Patty, attending a steampunk convention in Puget Sound.

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that essentially takes elements of the 19th century and places them in the future. It features anachronistic technologies, powered by steam, in the Victorian style and also draws largely on 19th century fashion, art and design.

Photo by Marra Clay

“You’ve got a lot of modern day science thrown into the Victorian aesthetic, but there’s no patroleum based economy, so there’s no plastic,” said Tuttle.

For example, steampunk literature might include a computer, but there is no plastic –– it’s made out of brass and wood and features obviously Victorian aesthetics.

“Basically, it’s a reimagining of an idealized Victorian past where steam technology has accelerated to produce a relatively modern …  level of mechanical sophistication,” said junior Sam Chapman, who is familiar with steampunk literature.

Dan Clark, who served on the board of the Historical Architecture Development Corporation in Walla Walla and formerly coordinated the Living History Company at Fort Walla Walla Museum, will be serving as dance master for the Victorian Ball. Clark will be teaching dances and leading participants.

According to Clark, his interest in the Victorian time period led him to work with Tuttle to create the ball.

“We’re all interested in history, as well as dance, and love the idea of bringing the two together in a classic evening ball of the kind you read about in literature and see at the movies,” said Clark.

This event will not only be a good opportunity to learn about the Victorian era and the steampunk genre, but to emulate and experience elements of Victorian life.

“I love the joy old-time dancing gives to people when they interact with everyone else on the dance floor, changing partners throughout the evening and dancing in sets with a variety of people to zesty tunes played by live musicians,” said Clark.

But the ball isn’t the only opportunity people will have to get a taste of history. Converging Histories will also offer tours of the museum, a variety show and a psychic fair. People can have their palms or Tarot cards read, and they can connect with the dead through a medium.

Photo by Marra Clay

“You’ve got to have a lot of stuff to do if you want people to come from out of town,” said Tuttle.

Hopefully they will come. Tuttle hopes that by combing Victorian with steampunk, he can reach out to a larger audience.

“I’m trying to marry the alternate Victorian with the real Victorian with this festival,” said Tuttle.

Beyond bringing the two styles of Victorian and steampunk together, the event is meant to introduce these themes to the rest of the Walla Walla community.

“I’m hoping Walla Wallans and others will embrace their roots and celebrate our historic community and common past through this event,” said Clark.

Photo by Marra Clay

 

Event costs range from $15 to $20, and events will take place at various locations.

The Variety Show will be held Friday, Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Gesa Power House Theater.

The Grand Victorian Ball will be held at Sharpstein School on Saturday, Nov. 9. A dance workshop will be held from 10 a.m. to noon, and the ball will begin at 6 p.m. Psychic activities will take place in the museum on Friday, Nov. 8 at 2 p.m. and on Saturday, Nov. 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. More information can be found here.

The event planners hope the festival will benefit both the Kirkman House Museum and the greater Walla Walla community.

“One of the goals is to get a whole different group of people involved with the museum, and I wanted to draw in people from out of town and make it a tourist event for the whole town, not just fundraising for the museum,” said Tuttle.

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