Monday, December 9, 2013
OAKLAND — The man who spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars building an Iron Man costume in his basement won first place at a costume contest in Salem, Mass., over the weekend.
winner: Oakland resident Thomas Lemieux shows off his costume at the Hawthorne Hotel’s Halloween ball on Saturday. Lemieux won first place for his Iron Man suit, which he spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to complete.
Invention: Oakland resident Thomas Lemieux works on one of the electronic components of his Iron Man suit during the summer.
Sentinel file photo
Thomas Lemieux, 28, showed off his costume — a replica of one of the Iron Man suits worn by actor Robert Downey Jr. in the popular superhero movie franchise — to the judges and a crowd of nearly 1,000 costumed attendees at the Hawthorne Hotel’s annual Halloween costume ball Saturday night.
Compared to the feats of the comic book and movie character, who vanquishes super-villains and saves the world on a regular basis, the costume party win was a small accomplishment. But to Lemieux, it was a satisfying end to a year-long mission that began last Halloween, when he admired the ball from outside the hotel during a visit to Salem last year.
“That’s what inspired me to make it in the first place,” Lemieux said. “I said, ‘I have to go there with a really great costume.’”
Lemieux walked away with the first-place cash prize of $300, but Julie Lederhaus, general manager of the Hawthorne Hotel, said the dollar value is not the important part of the prize.
“It’s about the bragging rights,” she said. “It’s about the glory.”
Lederhaus said there have been many superhero costumes in recent years and the judges typically look for costumes with more original concepts. Still, she said, Lemieux was a clear winner in the category because his suit was so well crafted.
The suit, which cost Lemieux about $2,800 to build, is made of about 1,000 pieces of modeling foam, which Lemieux painted and filled with electronics that allow him to trigger light and sound effects.
The ball’s second-place prize went to a woman dressed as actress Tippi Hedren from the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock horror movie “The Birds.” Her costume included a torn period dress, fake blood, and a flock of fearsome stuffed black birds attached all over her body.
Lederhaus said the competition at the annual event, which has grown over the last 30 years, is fierce and getting fiercer all the time, with some people working on their outfits for an entire year. Costumes that rehash old properties must have a unique twist, she said.
“We’ve seen enough Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz to last a lifetime,” she said. “If you’re going to win as a zombie here, you’re going to have to go above and beyond zombiedom.”
Lemieux, who works a night shift at MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer Campus in Waterville as a sterilization technician, has also won ribbons for the suit in recent months at the World Maker Faire in New York City, the Lewiston Auburn Mini Maker Faire, and the University of Southern Maine Robot Expo in Gorham, all events which promote hands-on building projects with an emphasis on electronics.
He has also been an active presence online on social media sites, where he posts frequent updates of his project. He has even created an “Iron Man of Maine” logo, which appears on business cards and stickers he has printed, as well as in a mock-movie trailer he filmed and posted online.
Lemieux said he has been concerned that Marvel Comics, the company that owns the character of Iron Man, will ask him to stop making appearances, but he hopes they’ll allow him to continue, in part because he doesn’t charge for pictures or appearances.
Lemieux plans to spend 4:30 to 6 p.m. Halloween in full costume at the Last Unicorn, a Waterville restaurant. He will also appear this weekend at the Augusta Civic Center during Maine Game Con, a gaming convention that will also feature a costumed group whose members call themselves “The Ghostbusters of Maine,” and a man from Portland with a custom-made Batman costume.
Lederhaus said the hotel has already begun preparations for next year’s ball. So has Lemieux, who said he wants to build a whole new costume from scratch to compete in the ball again next year.
“Something completely different,” he said. But his concept isn’t as different as you might imagine.
“I want to do another Iron Man suit,” he said. “But one that looks different, and has all-new gimmicks and electronics.”