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Vandalia-Con brings steampunk to Pburg

By Staff | May 28, 2015

Photo by Austin Rempel Presenter Brett Dusic, aka Mr. Cat, displays an obsidian knife to attendees of his ungentlemanly combat class.

A hodgepodge collection of adventurers, tinkerers and enthusiasts descended upon downtown Parkersburg May 22-24 for the second Vandalia-Con, hosted at the historic Blennerhassett Hotel.

The hotel inspired founders Shelly and Brett Dusic to create the event and, after three months of planning and phone calls, Vandalia-Con 2014 was on the calendar.

With an all volunteer staff and outside sponsorship, all proceeds benefit the West Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program’s Diagnostic and Treatment Fund and Bonnie’s Bus, which provide breast and cervical cancer screenings, tests and other services to women in West Virginia.

“For every gold pass we sell we can give a woman a mammogram,” Shelly Dusic said, explaining the different tickets sold for the weekend. “Last year we raised over $5,000.”

Those in attendance had the opportunity to participate in a mix of classes, performances and good old-fashioned camaraderie. Vendors were present selling everything from nature prints to photo shoots, hand-crafted jewelry, themed costumes and much more.

Several con-goers enjoyed the Victorian feel of the downtown area and the hospitality they received by natives, many of whom asked for pictures with the costumed debutants.

“Everyone comes at this from a different direction,” said Kevin Guselman of Pittsburgh, who cosplays as Vitruvius Pike, and has been doing steampunk since 2007. “You have diversity of people, ages. You can see it here.”

Guselman recalled tales of wheelchairs with themed modifications and even an amputee who creates prosthetics for his various costumes.

Vendors come to sell craft items but some, like Cindy Cookson of Portsmouth, Ohio, are not worried about making a profit.

“It’s for such a good cause it doesn’t matter to me if I sell a lot or not,” Cookson said. “This is my hobby, not my job.”

Cookson creates knit products like hats and fake bears but was taking notes of colors and patterns to provide more theme-specific items for next year. Cookson, along with her brothers, funds a scholarship fund for their father who had no formal education but insisted his kids go to college. They give $500 dollars a year to a senior at Portsmouth West High School and hope to increase that fund soon.

Performer John Gradwohl, of Parkersburg, charades as Professor Bubblemaker and uses various tools to perform family-friendly shows with bubbles of various shapes, colors and sizes. His performances are geared towards children and he tours area fairs, carnivals and private events.

In the end, the Dusics planned the event because “no one said no” and their friends and community were tremendously supportive. They have booked the venue for Memorial Day Weekend 2016 and invite anyone, costumed or not, to attend, support a good cause and have a family-friendly good time.