KEY WEST, Florida Keys — It began with a roadblock set up by the United States Border Patrol, an irritated populace staging a ceremonial secession from the Union and a symbolic "attack" on a hapless government official with a loaf of stale Cuban bread. Today, 35 years later, "citizens" can celebrate the anniversary of the Conch Republic's birth Friday, April 21, through Sunday, April 30.
The Conch Republic Independence Celebration's irreverent activities include a "drag" race between female impersonators, a good-natured sea battle featuring historic tall ships, a parade down Key West's famed Duval Street and a bed race billed as "the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on."
The island republic, whose motto is "We seceded where others failed," was born to combat a 1982 Border Patrol blockade of the Florida Keys that threatened to derail the region's emerging tourism-based economy. Its stated mission is to bring "more humor, warmth and respect to a world in sore need of all three."
The 35th anniversary celebration's opening weekend includes the Great Conch Republic Drag Race scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, April 22, in the 700 block of Duval Street. Rather than speeding dragsters, the offbeat challenge features sprinting drag queens attired in gala dresses, full makeup and unnervingly high heels mandated by race rules.
Other festival highlights include the World's Longest Parade, set for 8 p.m. Thursday, April 27, so named because its route down Duval Street proceeds from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
Sea dogs and wenches on tall ships and other vessels can combat "evil federal forces" during Friday night's Great Battle for the Conch Republic. Spectators can view the maritime mayhem from the waterfront Mallory Square.
Landlubbers are to vie for victory Saturday, April 29, during a charity race featuring "strange bedfellows" and decorated beds on Duval Street.
Among other festival attractions are an Earth Day concert, Conch Republic royal family election, March of the Sea Dogs Pet Stroll, food and crafts fest, bar stroll and treasure hunt, fun runs, parties and an exclusive meet-and-greet brunch with Conch Republic diplomats.
Event information and schedule: conchrepublic.com
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
Highlights include a bed race billed as "the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on."
A good-natured sea battle featuring historic tall ships is also featured.
Protesters in the island republic, whose motto is "We seceded where others failed."