Conch Republic Independence...Backstory
Apr 20, 2018
Key West started appearing on European maps and documents in the mid-1600’s. It wasn’t until 1819 that all of Florida was ceded to the United States.
The Conch Republic, its origins and brief cessation from the USA, is another story all together…and one that took place not that long ago and has its roots in economic hardship. As Paul Harvey would say, here’s “The rest of the story”.
Back in early 1982 the Florida Keys found themselves overcome by border patrol agents. The crisis reached a climax when the US Government put border checks on both Route 905A and Highway US 1 - the only two roads in and out of the Keys.
Cars and trucks began to stack up on both roads, up to 17-mile long stalemates traffic jam formed.
Soon, the freeway freeze-up made national headlines and local business owners were receiving cancelations from tourists concerned they could get into, but not out of, the Keys.
Tension continued to climb – while border agents claimed they were on the lookout for illegal aliens, the easygoing folks around town felt it was becoming a major inconvenience and creating a substantial financial impact.
A meeting was called of major influencers from the area, talks were held, beers were drunk, decisions were made and soon…a new nation was formed.
On April 23rd, 1982 the mayor at the time of the “Great Inconvenience”made a formal declaration of war against the United States on behalf of the newly formed Conch Republic.
While the conflict lasted mere moments, it was enough to establish the brand new micro-nation as independent. Soon, residents cheerfully claimed Key West had officially “Seceded where others had failed.”A mantra the townspeople would adopt as a slogan.
Although the United States never recognized the new diplomatic nation, nor its terms of surrender and request for $1 billion dollars of foreign aid, the townsfolk, and visitors alike, have continued to view the Conch Republic as its own 5th World country.
In fact, in 1990 – as the 8th Anniversary of the historic traffic jam and subsequent secession grew closer; a committee was formed to plan an official Conch Republic Independence Day.
Like all Key West traditions, what was originally a brainstorm for a daylong celebration slowly grew to be a weeklong recognition of good times, good vibes, and stale bread.
In fact...we're celebrating with our once/year revolutionary, Independence Week sale.
The official Independence Day is recorded as April 23rd and celebrated each year in the Keys but various bars, restaurants, and local legends keep the celebrations going well before and after. The list of the events is filled with various odd activities but the highlights include: sponsored bar crawls, live music, military displays, the election of leaders, and the World Famous Drag (Queen) Races down Duvall Street.
Here the link to the festivities: https://conchrepublicdayskeywest.com/
Everything culminates at the waters edge with an officially sanctioned engagement of the U.S Coast Guard. Locals charter boats, stock up on stale Cubano rolls (the official weapon of choice of the Conch Republic) and face off against Coast Guard ships posted on the bay.
The USCG tends to prefer water cannons to crusty bread but both parties are generally evenly matched. As vintage bi-planes bomb the vessels from above with Marine issue biodegradable toilet paper the battle usually comes to a close when the US forces officially surrender, as they have since 1990.
The Conch Republic truly embodies the spirit of those who live in or choose to visit the Florida Keys, with the mission to simply bring “Humor, Warmth, and Respect to a World in Need.”
So if you find yourself south of US Highway 1 in late April make sure you take some time to join on “One Human Nation” and celebrate this momentous occasion.
Even if your trip doesn’t line up with the liberation celebration, that’s no excuse for not stopping by to grab an official passport, visitor’s visa or t-shirt from the Conch Republic Office of the Secretary-General.
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