In April of 1982, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol erected a roadblock checkpoint on US 1 for Cuban Refugees entering the country illegally. This checkpoint, based at the venerable Skeeter’s Last Chance Saloon in Florida City, immediately resulted in a 17 mile long traffic jam, giving Skeeter cause to contact his friend, the honorable Mayor Dennis Wardlow of Key West.
This roadblock, as Mayor Wardlow agreed, was more than an inconvenience to the citizens of the Keys – Key West citizens were now required to show proof of US citizenship to travel from their town to any other in the state of Florida – an obligation US citizens rarely suffer lightly. In addition, this blockade was an epic bottleneck on the only road from the island to Sanity (as Conchs refer to the mainland US), which not only ground the tourism industry to an immediate halt, but strangled the lines of supply (read: alcohol) to the island.
In response to this affront, Mayor Dennis Wardlow and several other influential members of the community attempted to file an injunction against the blockade, to no avail. With no other recourse in the eyes of the populace, at high noon on April 23rd of 1982, Mayor Wardlow read aloud the formal Proclamation of Secession, declaring the independence of the Conch Republic from the United States of America.
Armed with stale loaves of Cuban bread, the populace engaged in exactly 60 seconds of prolonged pseudo combat before surrendering their sovereignty to the Union forces at the Key West Naval Base, where Prime Minister Wardlow formally requested $1 billion US in foreign aid for the Conch Republic war relief effort. These monies are yet to be received.
And so each year the Conchs celebrate their brave rebellion with a week long festival of parties and events, including costumed footraces, concerts, parades, and a recreation of the Conch Rebellion. Several events benefit charities close to the heart of the island, such as AIDS research and homeless intervention.
The Conch Republic Independence Celebration runs from April 17-26th. A full schedule of events is available through ConchRepublic.com