Was Phineas Banning “Steampunk”?

By Amy Grat, EXP CEO and Occasional Time Traveler

In 1851, PHINEAS BANNING left Philadelphia on a 3,000-mile journey to make his fortune in the wild, wild West. The San Pedro Bay where he landed was little more than a shallow mudflat. Fueled by the power of Banning’s vision, ambition, and embrace of technology, it eventually became a transportation gateway that brought the rest of the country, and eventually the world to Los Angeles.

Steampunk Phineas

“STEAMPUNK” is a term used to describe the array of literature, art, fashion, and costume subculture that celebrates the adventurous spirit and technological progressiveness of the Victorian Era. Steampunk draws upon the Victorians’ romance with science and the steam-fueled dreams of the Industrial Revolution, as described in Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth and H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. The “punk” in steampunk comes from the celebration of Do-It-Yourself expression and a rebellious artistic spirit — from making your own costume to creating new inventions from retro materials and machinery.

With his wonderful “go-ahead spirit” and firm belief in the power of progress, Phineas Banning definitely channeled the industrial energy and romantic swagger of the Victorian era in which he lived. At the same time, General Banning’s enduring penchant for intrigue, political maneuvering, and business rivalry was evidence that the man had his “punk” side as well. Phineas Banning absolutely was steampunk.

Oakley Boren (L) and Amy Grat (R)

The theme for this year’s Friends of Banning Museum’s annual fundraiser, Wisteria Regale, was supposed to be “THE TIME MACHINE” and guests were invited to dress in their steampunk best. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis that has taken over the world, we’ve had to cancel this year’s event. Wisteria Regale will return next year, keeping the steampunk aesthetic, which means, more time for you to prepare. Get your steampunk attire together. Start with a Victorian outfit, which might include a vest, corset, top hat, overcoat or dress. Then, accessorize your costume with things like leather belts, buckles, gloves, and goggles. In keeping with the time travel theme, consider adding pocket watches, binoculars, gears, and industrial-looking accessories. But, in the end, stay “punk” and wear whatever makes you feel awesome!