The 30th anniversary of the Florida Keys’ secession from the United States and formation of the independent Conch Republic is to be commemorated Friday, April 20, through Sunday, April 29. Planned highlights of the lighthearted Conch Republic Independence Celebration include a re-enactment of the historic secession.
The bold action was prompted by a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint set up at the entrance to the Florida Keys so agents could search cars for contraband. It virtually stopped traffic on the only road into and out of the island chain, angering residents and visitors.
Realizing the Keys were being treated as a foreign country, local officials protested by staging the secession April 23, 1982. They declared war on the mother country, pelted a federal agent with stale Cuban bread and, after 60 seconds, surrendered and requested $1 billion in foreign aid. The foreign aid never materialized, but the Border Patrol checkpoint was quickly removed.
The 30th annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration is to center around the secession re-enactment. Featuring many of the republic’s original founders, the event is set for 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 23, beside Key West’s Mallory Square.
Afterward, a gathering is planned at the Historic Key West Sculpture Garden where “patriots” are to prepare and serve a seven-foot Key lime pie to attendees. A gargantuan version of the Florida Keys’ signature dessert, the pie is to yield about 1,000 servings and require a blowtorch to brown the traditional meringue topping.
Other celebration highlights include the Great Conch Republic Drag Race, scheduled for Saturday afternoon, April 21, in the 700 and 800 blocks of Duval Street. Instead of high-speed cars, the race features high-heeled drag queens sprinting down Duval in dresses and full makeup.
Sea dogs and wenches gather Friday, April 27, for the 7 p.m. Conch Republic Naval Parade and Great Battle. The maritime mayhem pits the Conch Republic Military, aboard tall ships and other vessels, against “evil” federal forces in the waters of Key West Harbor. Weapons typically range from water cannons to flying vegetables, and spectators can watch from Bloody Battle Parties at harborfront resorts.
Saturday, April 28, brings the Conch Republic Red Ribbon Bed Race. Teams of “strange bedfellows” propel decorated beds up a portion of Duval Street to raise money for Key West’s AIDS Help, Inc.
The celebration schedule also includes the so-called world’s longest parade down Duval Street from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, a bar stroll along the same route, food and music fests, a charity pet stroll, lively parties and a sailing race to the reef that recalls the Keys’ early salvage industry.
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