The prevailing wisdom is that 'hon' is short for honey, a term of endearment for the working women of Baltimore.
But a new, radically different theory emerged in a large sign that leaned against a psychedelically painted bus, converted to a mobile clothing boutique store and parked on The Avenue during the 20th annual HonFest in Hampden.
According to the sign, "Hons originated from the icy tundra as a group of beehived female Vikings known for killing leopards with their spiked heels and wearing the pelts. It was theorized that they decorated their faces with lipstick, rouge and eyeshadow to strike fear in the hearts of those who crossed them ...
"No one lived to tell the tale."
Or not. This was, after all, HonFest, the quirky festival with national buzz where women wear high hair, pink feather boas, leopard-patterned clothing, house coats, slippers and cats eye glasses.
HonFest 2014 lived up to its reputation on a sun-soaked weekend that gave the festival a relaxed vibe. Festival goers danced in the street. Hons shopped for earrings and looked at their cell phones. Bands banged out songs on three separate stages, including one sponsored by Loyola University Maryland radio station WLOY.
"I like the laid-back feel of it," said Deborah Patterson, director of Hampden-based Artblocks, a nonprofit that specializes in creating community art spaces and recently installed life-sized elephant sculptures in Druid Hill Park. "It's more HampdenFest-y," she said, referring to the neighborhood's fall festival.
Michal Makarovich, owner of the store Hampden Junque, attributed the feel of the festival to "beautiful weather" and, "We're down-to-earth Baltimore."
Rick Santiago of the Art Underground studio laid giant eyeglasses on top of green felt carpeting in the middle of the street.
"It's just a display, just for fun," he said.
New Jersey seniors Rita Arnold and Gail Carson had a public bench to themselves as they posed in full hon regalia, down to the leopard-patterned umbrella that shielded them from the sun.
"Love it," said Carson, 70. "What a neat place."
"And we found a place to sit," exclaimed Arnold, 69, who was in town visiting her daughter, Susan Arnold, of Hampden.
A mishmash of national and local vendors, many of them Hampden merchants "spilling out" with tables and tents in the street, sold everything from Bohemian bracelets and toy assault rifles to chorizo burgers.
Sugar, the sex toy shop that recently moved into the old HONtown space on The Avenue, couldn't exactly spill out. For legal reasons, its windows were covered, making it hard to tell if it was even open, and underage festival goers weren't allowed in.
But inside, the store, previously in Hampden Hall, appeared to be doing brisk business, and owner Jacq Jones said she was happy with her new, more visible digs.
"It's good to be more spread out and serve more people," she said.
HonFest was so free-spirited that Theda Mayer, of Relay, and her nephew, Nolan Geppi, 17, a student at Catonsville High School, did an impromptu swing dance in the blocked-off street as a band played "Heard It Through the Grapevine."
HonFest director Lisa Davis, who by midday Sunday had walked more than 43 miles up and down The Avenue wearing a pedometer, threw an arm around 2003 Bawlmer's Best Hon contest winner Rita Moore, and they posed for a picture. Moore, wearing her winning banner over house clothes and her hair in curlers, said she has been to every HonFest since she won, except for 2012, when her house in the Wilson Point neighborhood burned down.
"We rebuilt," she said, smiling.
At St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Vicar Jim Muratore's Sunday morning church service was decidedly informal. It was held on the front lawn, overlooking The Avenue.
In recent years, the church has complained about the festival and its music starting during services. This year, HonFest didn't officially start until noon and the church, which is in transition without a full-time pastor, co-existed peaceably with the festival, as a small group of congregants gathered on the grass.
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"I'm gonna get a sunburn today," said Bill Herd, of Hampden.