Baltimore’s Hampdenfest Returns for Toilet Bowl Racing and More

Toilet Racers adopt fun themes like Game of Thrones at Hampdenfest.
Toilet Racers adopt fun themes like Game of Thrones at Hampdenfest. | © John Iannuzzi / Hampdenfest
Photo of Kate Elizabeth Orgera
7 September 2018

Every September, the Baltimore neighborhood of Hampden, known for John Waters films, funky local shops, and hon culture, celebrates its local community with Hampdenfest. This one-day festival includes a pie-eating contest, musical performances, and toilet races.

Hampdenfest, a festival that takes place on West 36th Street (also known as “The Avenue”), brings together local artists and merchants for a fun day of food, music, and games in order to “encourage the continued improvement and economic vitality of our neighborhood and the arts,” as stated on the Hampdenfest website.

One event sets this neighborhood festival apart, displaying Hampden’s general attitude of embracing of the weird and wonderful. Similar to Baltimore’s long-running Kinetic Sculpture Race, the annual Toilet Race Competition has competitors race toilets on wheels down 36th Street.

Check out the colorful toilet racers at Hampdenfest. | © John Iannuzzi / Hampdenfest

Toilet Racer vehicles must include “one clean human defecation device,” according to the rules, driven by at least one pilot. While some past competitors chose urinals or outhouses as their defecation device of choice, most go for the toilet since it’s easy to sit on while driving.

The toilet vehicles and their crew go all out with theming, with funky helmets, costumes, and funny names like “The Hopkins Johns,” piloted by Johns Hopkins students, or the “Rat Czar,” whose pilot wears a rat mascot head.

Things can get messy at Hampdenfest's Dangerously Delicious Pie Eating Contest. | © John Iannuzzi / Hampdenfest

Other fun contests to partake in at Hampdenfest include the Dangerously Delicious Pie Eating Contest, where the first to finish their pie wins a free pie a month for a year, and the Rocket to Venus Atomic Wings Challenge, where contestants have to get through 10 Atomic Breath Hot Wings, made with habanero and Carolina Reaper peppers. A popular locally owned restaurant hosts each event.

But the contests aren’t the only way to enjoy Hampden’s food. Hampdenfest itself is full of delicious offerings from the area, including crab cakes, pit beef, snowballs, and local craft beer.

Musicians perform on three different stages during Hampdenfest. | © Gavin St. Ours / Flickr

Festival attendees can enjoy local vendors and musicians along “The Avenue,” with plenty of stalls, stores, and outdoor racks selling their wares, plus three stages with performances throughout the day. Some Hampden stores even have exclusive discounts for the festival, so be on the lookout for a sweet deal.

With all this, Hampdenfest is a great sample of one of Baltimore’s coolest—and quirkiest—neighborhoods. So, whether you’ve been in Baltimore for years or just days, it’s a good time for all.

Hampdenfest 2018 takes place September 8, 2018, from 11 AM–7 PM on West 36th Street, Baltimore, MD.

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