It's a Hampden thing

you wouldn't understand

September 17, 2006|By Allison Connolly | Allison Connolly,Sun reporter

People from distant cities have been known to flock to Hampden's annual Hon Fest to watch as women dressed in gaudy clothes, thick makeup and wind-resistant beehives compete for the title of "Best Hon."

But HampdenFest, held yesterday along the stretch of 36th Street known as "The Avenue," is more for locals, residents said.

"It still retains the character of the neighborhood, rather than it being a novelty," said Sandie Castle, who was working at Passion Fish, which is owned by her 27-year-old son, Shawn Baron.

In many ways, Passion Fish is a lot like the neighborhood. The store offers a mix of collectibles, including Raggedy Ann dolls and Hardy Boys books. Downstairs, Baron has a modern art gallery filled with sculptures as well as photographs he has taken of the neighborhood.

Despite the influx of new people and money, and the threat of a Starbucks, Hampden has kept its character. The HampdenFest culminates with a karaoke contest dubbed "Hampden Idol."

"It's like a little country town; everybody knows everybody," said Tom Haggerty, who has lived in Hampden all of his 46 years and "doesn't plan on living anywhere else."

Lynn Silverman, a photographer, is one of the relatively new faces in the neighborhood.

She came for work six years ago from England and loves that she can walk to her favorite restaurants, coffee shop, doctor's office and photo lab.

"The only thing you can't get here are a pair of knickers," she said, referring to the lack of a basic clothing store.

Her two friends visiting from Edinburgh, Scotland, bought silk kimono robes from Susie Lip- scher's Plum Blossom Kimono stand.

"That's something you wouldn't find in the shops in Scotland," said Susanne Ramsenthaler.

Julia Potter, 35, of Raspeburg drove past the Lauraville Fair to come to HampdenFest.

"It's just a hipper festival, with better beer," she said, raising her clear plastic cup filled with dark amber from local beer maker The Brewer's Art. "This isn't Bud."

"It's not even the same funnel cake," said her husband, Dean, 38, drawing a laugh from their group.

Dean Potter lived in Hampden before they married.

"It's changed," he said. "I just hope it doesn't become a Canton."

As if on cue, Antoinette Volley, 30, dressed in a pink bodysuit with a pink-and-black leopard-print belt and shimmery purple eye shadow, skated through the crowd handing out invitations to the Charm City Roller Girls championship happening today at Putty Hill Skateland on Belair Road.

Nearby, 12-year-old Rachel Porter persuaded friend Kayla Watt, 11, to also get her hair spray-painted fluorescent pink at the Crazy Hair stand.

"I told her she had to get pink," said Rachel, who lives in Hampden. "No other color."

For Kayla, the hairdo represents what her neighborhood festival is all about: To "go around and be crazy."

"I think it's good that they have things on the weekend where kids can have fun," she said. Then they were off to the stand offering temporary tattoos.

allison.connolly@baltsun.com

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