KEY WEST, Fla. — Aspiring and current Conch Republic citizens can celebrate the offbeat “nation’s” birthday April 19-28 with activities including a lighthearted sea battle for tall ships, a drag race for men dressed as women and a parade dubbed the world’s longest because its route stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
The 37th annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration commemorates the Florida Keys’ symbolic secession from the United States — an act inspired by the 1982 establishment of a U.S. Border Patrol blockade that virtually stopped traffic on the only road connecting the Keys and mainland Florida.
In protest, local officials proclaimed the island chain the independent Conch Republic. They then declared “war” on the mother country, carried it out by pelting a U.S. Naval officer with stale Cuban bread, immediately surrendered and requested $1 billion in foreign aid.
Today patriots throughout the Keys fly the royal blue flag of the republic, whose motto is “We Seceded Where Others Failed,” and celebrate the secession’s annual anniversary with 10 days of irreverent events.
The 2019 festival begins Friday, April 19, with a ceremonial breakfast and the raising of the colors of the eccentric “nation” by the Conch Republic’s military forces.
The weekend’s highlights include the outrageous Great Conch Republic Drag Race. Slated for 2 p.m. Saturday, April 20, in the 700 block of Key West’s Duval Street, the race is to feature fetchingly garbed drag queens sprinting down the pavement in startlingly high heels.
The secession itself is to be commemorated at 5 p.m. Tuesday evening at the Key West Fire Department Station 2 at Simonton and Angela streets. Hosted by Conch Republic dignitaries and military members, the ceremony typically includes a 21–conch shell horn salute.
The overflowing schedule of events also includes a pirates’ ball and costume contest, tall ship “rum running” day sails and sunset cruises aboard the republic’s flagship Schooner Wolf, “Conch Crawl” bar and distillery strolls, the Hot Havana Nights dinner dance and the Great Sea Battle in Key West Harbor. During the latter, sea dogs and wenches on tall ships and other vessels, as well as Conch Republic military members, combat “evil federal forces” in a skirmish that the republic always wins.
The festival’s conclusion Sunday, April 28, coincides with the start of the Conch Republic Cup Regatta to Cuba, a multiday event promoting cultural exchange through sport.
Event information and schedule: conchrepublicdayskeywest.com
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY