In 1982, frustrated with a Federal government roadblock at the top of US-1 that was killing tourism, Key West declared itself a free and sovereign nation. They did not stay independent for long, but they got noticed and the roadblock was moved.
It's no secret to anyone who knows anything about the history of Key West, Florida that it has always marched to the beat of a different drummer. Sometimes it may have even seemed like it was a completely different band. While most of that was done in good fun and was harmless, there were times when some of the activity was less than sunny and caught the attention of the people in charge. Such was the atmosphere in the late 1970's and early 80's. The Federal government was concerned with the amount of drug trafficking and illegal immigrants moving through the Florida Keys. They erected a roadblock in Key Largo and searched every vehicle coming and going. This killed tourism and sent Key West restaurants reeling.
After all of their conventional actions fell on deaf ears, Key West did what it always does best: it had fun. On April 23, 1982, they declared their independence from the United States and declared war. They then immediately surrendered and asked for $1,000,000,000 in war aid. They never got the money, but their point was made and the roadblock was gone.
Every year since during that time frame has been one of the busiest celebrations on the island and the one that the locals who work in the Key West restaurants, bars and shops look forward to the most. Secretary General of the Conch Republic, Sir Peter Anderson, had this to say when announcing this year's activities: "Dedicated to the fundamental American spirit of a people unafraid to stand up to 'government gone mad with power' that embodied the founding of the Conch Republic in 1982. As the world's first fifth-world nation, a sovereign state of mind seeking only to bring more humor, warmth and respect to a world sorely in need of all three, the Conch Republic remains the country who seceded where others failed."
With events ranging from drag races with real drag queens and bed races to bar crawls and a battle that involves stale Cuban bread, April 18-27 are definitely ten days in Key West Florida that you certainly want to be a part of.
Robert Willis is a food and travel writer who lives in Key West.