In April of 1982, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a blockade at the top of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway in Florida City ostensibly seeking illegal immigrants and narcotics that created long traffic delays for motorists leaving the Keys.
Not to sit back and take this assault on locals (Conchs) and our visitors, the Key West mayor and city commissioners declared Key West’s independence from the U.S. on April 23, 1982.
We immediately declared war against the U.S. by bopping a real U.S. Navy officer with a loaf of stale Cuban Bread and then surrendered asking for something like a billion dollars in foreign aid. This mock secession — though many will tell you we DID secede — gave birth to the Conch Republic.
Each year we celebrate our independence with a week of fun, pageants, a re-creation of the battle against the U.S. and the world’s longest parade.
Kicking off the 33rd annual celebration at high noon Friday, April 17th, is the raising of the colors at Fort Zachary Taylor and the firing of a cannon.
Later that evening we gather at the Schooner Wharf Bar for the kickoff of the anniversary as the ‘People Who Seceded Where Others Failed’. These festivities include a Conch Shell blowing contest and the appearance of the Caribbean Queen Junkanoo Band.
As the celebration moves forward, patriots can watch the Great Conch Republic Drag Race beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 18. The event is held in the 700 block of Duval Street and features a gaggle of drag queens wearing high heels doing their best to navigate the obstacle course while being rewarded with chilled libations.
Thursday, April 23, brings the Worlds Longest Parade which steps off on Duval Street at 8 p.m. from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
There is a live theater production, called “Conch Republic, the Musical,” a pirates’ ball, a bed race billed as “the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on,” and a sailing race commemorating the Florida Keys’ historic shipwreck salvage tradition.
Also, if you are here this Saturday, April 28, several thousand costumed participants will “compete” in the Cow Key Channel Bridge Run beginning at noon. It’s one of the shortest bridges of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway and it’s the only Zero K bridge run.
Last year I crossed the finish line in 6.49 minutes, delayed as I paused at the hydration station for a bottle of water. The winner finished in 25 seconds.
There is still time to register to win the Steve Grand Flyaway vacation to Key West. The prize includes air transportation, four nights in a luxury hotel, meals and more! Registration closes April 28.