Florida Keys’ Conch Republic to Commemorate ‘Secession’ April 21-30
KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Activities including a lighthearted sea battle featuring tall ships, a parade dubbed the world’s longest and a “drag” race for female impersonators await Key West fans April 21-30 during the 41st annual Conch Republic Days celebration.
The offbeat 10-day festival commemorates the Florida Keys’ symbolic secession from the United States and reinvention as the independent Conch Republic.
The republic, whose motto is “We seceded where others failed,” was born following a 1982 U.S. Border Patrol blockade of the island chain. In protest, citizens organized the secession, declared war on the mother country, surrendered 60 seconds later and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid. The anniversary of the secession is marked each year with a roster of irreverent events.
The 2023 celebration began with activities including Great Conch Republic Drag Race Saturday, April 22, in the 700 block of Duval St. The wacky challenge starred drag queens and intrepid men in dresses, wigs and makeup who sprint down the pavement in startlingly high heels.
The secession’s anniversary Sunday, April 23, featured a noontime reenactment of the historic act at 401 Wall St. beside Mallory Square, the site of the original rebellion. Many of the Conch Republic’s founders including Key West’s former mayor, Dennis Wardlow, re-created the 1982 ceremony that marked the renowned republic’s birth.
Thursday, April 27, brings the World’s Longest Parade. Stepping off at 8 p.m. on Duval Street, the procession is so named because it begins at the Atlantic Ocean and proceeds down the length of Duval to the Gulf of Mexico.
The action moves to Key West Harbor at 7 p.m. Friday for the Great Sea Battle of the Conch Republic, featuring weapons ranging from water cannons to flying Cuban bread. Noncombatants can view the seafaring spectacle from Mallory Square and harborfront resorts, restaurants and bars.
Landlubbers are to vie for victory Saturday, April 29, during a charity race featuring “strange bedfellows” piloting decorated beds on wheels along Duval Street.
Other festival attractions include daily tall ship and catamaran sails, a pirates ball and other parties, a wearable art fashion show, artisan extravaganzas and a sailing race that recalls the Florida Keys’ colorful maritime heritage.
Finally, all Conch Republic friends and fans are invited to view Race World Offshore’s inaugural 7 Mile Offshore Grand Prix, a powerboat race beside the historic Seven Mile Bridge in the Middle Keys. Racing is set for Sunday, April 30, with events to culminate in the presentation of the Conch Republic Cup. VIP spectator tickets are available at raceworldoffshore.com.
Event information and complete schedule: conchrepublic.com
Citizens and fans of the Conch Republic gather for the flag raising ceremony to begin the annual celebration of the Florida Keys seceding from the union in 1982 because of a U.S. Border Patrol blockade of the Florida Keys island chain.
Bat Masterson blows a conch shell to begin the 2022 Conch Republic independence celebration. Photo: Rob O'Neal
The reenactment of the Great Sea Battle of the Conch Republic is to take place Friday, April 28 on Key West Harbor near Mallory Square. Photo: Bill Clip