By Chris Kaltenbach
The Baltimore Sun
8:46 AM EDT, June 13, 2014
Since 1994, Hampden's Honfest has been celebrating the archetypal Baltimore hon. Women — and even some men — have flocked to 36th Street (if you're a local, you know it as the Avenue) for the sole purpose of winning the title of Baltimore's Best Hon.
But what separates the true hon from the mere pretender? Why do people regard her so fondly? And why are women willing to come back to Hampden, year after year, to vie for the coveted title?
We asked three veteran hon contenders, ranging in age from 12 to 65, those very questions. Being a hon, it turns out, is not easy. But the rewards — how many titles, after all, make you an automatic civic icon? — make the effort worthwhile.
Because everyone loves a hon.
Janet Trimble leads a veritable hon dynasty.
Born and raised in Hampden, the 65-year-old Trimble says she is "definitely" a hon, and has been all her life. And what's more, she's got two more generations of hons backing her up.
"A hon means a Baltimore hard-working woman," says Trimble, a waitress at Cafe Hon since it opened in 1992, a former Baltimore's Best Hon herself (in 2001) and now a judge in the annual contest. "You worked all your life, you're a hon. You raised your children with a bunch of pride."
Sadly, Trimble's two grown daughters have moved away. But her daughter-in-law, Kay Cooke, has been a contestant in the Baltimore's Best Hon contest. So has her granddaughter, Jordan Cooke. Trimble regards her lineage with matriarchal pride.
"I think people should be proud of the hons," she says.
Trimble certainly is, even if she commutes to Hampden these days from her home in Perry Hall. She remembers when her boss, Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting, started Honfest 20 years ago. "It was smaller, and then it got bigger and bigger," she says. "It wasn't even in the street then. It was up in the back, on our parking lot."
Although she's a hon every day of her life, Trimble admits to gussying herself up special for Honfest. Mostly, she says, it's a question of hair.
"I do it up special for Honfest," she says. "My hairdresser is 70 years old, so she knows all about that. She flips my hair up like nobody's business. Boom, she has it up there."
But the best part of being a hon, especially at Honfest, is the reaction she gets from people, Trimble says unequivocally. "Everybody stops and wants to talk to the hons. They get their cameras out, they want to take a picture of their children with you. All day long."
And the worst part? Well, it's kind of a drag, Trimble admits, that, as a judge, she's not allowed to play favorites.
"When any friends or family are on," she says with a sigh, "you just can't vote."
Sure, there's the hairdo and the cat's-eye glasses. But take it from Sophia Freitag — there's way more to being a successful Hon than that.
"Just make sure your accent is right," says 12-year-old Sophia, a student at the Waldorf School who will be entering her fourth Miss Honette contest this weekend. "And have a lot of sass."
And there you have it. Even 12-year-olds understand that being a hon is about more than just the looks. " [It's] also being very friendly," she adds.
Not that a hon can afford to let her looks go, or her vocabulary. Asked what makes a hon, Sophia thinks for just a moment before answering, "I guess a hon would be a person who speaks a Bawlamerese accent, dresses from the '60s and has a lot of hairspray."
Tracy Turnblad, the hero of John Waters' "Hairspray," couldn't have explained it better herself.
Sophia, who lives in Mount Washington, came in second among last year's Honettes — her best finish yet. She has her fingers crossed for this year, even if there's a wrinkle in her plans. A friend, Eva Caplan, has been at her side for two Miss Honette contests, but she's not going to be able to make it this year. Fortunately, another friend is waiting in the wings, willing to help out.
Maybe she could even get her mom, Laura, up there on stage with her?
"I have tried," Sophia says, sounding just a touch exasperated. "She's going to dress up this year, but I don't think she's going to have her hair done."
That's too bad. When it comes being a Hon, clearly, half-measures won't do.
"It can take me anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to get ready," Sophia says. "I think the hardest part is getting my hair done, having to brush out my teased hair."
But it's worth it, she says. Even mom thinks so. "My mom likes getting all the pictures," Sophia says.
It'll be hard to miss Stephanie Murdock up there on the Baltimore's Best Hon stage this weekend. Odds are, she'll be the only hon riding a skateboard.
"I keep trying," she says, noting this will be her fifth year of being a hon on wheels. "I'm hoping this might be the year for Skateboarding Hon."
Already, 2014 has been a pretty good year for the 31-year-old Parkville native. In May, after years of fundraising and promotion, Murdock finally got her Skatepark of Baltimore opened, in Hampden's Roosevelt Park. So yeah, maybe this will be her year.
For her, the hon is a complicated, and wholly admirable, Baltimorean. "A hon to me is a blue-collar working woman that really knows how to get things done," Murdock says. "Somebody that isn't necessarily always dressed-up in their Sunday best, somebody that's going to wear an outfit where they can chase the kids around the neighborhood, take out the trash and recycling, but also be in the kitchen making dinner, taking care of things around the house. She's kind of an empowered woman."
Murdock has had plenty of opportunities to study hons up-close. She moved to Hampden five years ago, to engage herself more fully in the Skatepark crusade. She's spent a lot of time working on her accent, which she believes is "pretty good." And she's always one of the first women to sign up for the annual hons contest, so her enthusiasm certainly isn't the issue. But maybe, Murdock allows, her outfit is.
"I think that could be part of the problem," she says. "I've been wearing the same dress every year, because it's my hon dress. I think I got it at a yard sale. I don't know that it's quite as fancy as some of the outfits — I think I try to lean more heavily on the accessories, like my skateboard and Band-Aid earrings, stuff like that.
"Maybe they're not ready for a skateboarding hon."
Ah, but if they only knew how tough life can be for a skateboarding hon. "It's hard enough to balance," Murdock notes, "without a two-foot wig on your head."
If you go
Honfest 2014 runs 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday in Hampden, along 36th Street, east of Falls Road. Included in the festivities are the Little Miss Hon Contest, for girls 3-7 (11 a.m. Saturday), the Miss Honette Contest, for girls 8-13 (11:30 A.M. Saturday) and the Baltimore's Best Hon Contest (2:20 p.m. Saturday and 2:05 p.m. Sunday). Admission is free. Information: honfest.net.
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