Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Conch Republic

Have you ever heard of the Conch Republic?  Could you locate it on a map?  Well, look no farther than the Florida Keys to find the answer.  The designation of Conch Republic refers to the “micronation” of the Keys (technically all land south of Skeeter’s Last Chance Saloon) which succeeded from the United States on April 23, 1982.  Yes, that is correct…The Keys actually declared its own national sovereignty.  Didn’t we tell you in our last post that there were “characters” in the Keys?

"Conch Republic" flag proudly displaying their motto "we seceded where others failed" and
the conch shell.
What brought on this rebellious act of defiance?  It was a roadblock and inspections station that the U.S. Border Patrol established in Florida City on Highway 1 – the only road linking the Keys to the mainland.  The blockade was put in place to search northbound vehicles for illegal drugs and immigrants.  The Key West City Council objected strongly to this blockade and routinely complained that it was a major inconvenience for people travelling from Key West and, subsequently, was hurting the tourism industry.

After numerous complaints were ignored and a legal action to get an injunction against the blockade failed in Federal Court, Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow and the city council declared the independence of the city of Key West and called their micronation the "Conch Republic."  The Conch Republic elected Wardlow as the “Prime Minister” and he promptly declared war against the U.S. by symbolically breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a navy uniform.  After one minute of succession and their outlandish actions, Wardlow surrendered to an officer of the Key West Naval Air Station, and requested one billion dollars in “foreign aid” to rebuild their nation after the long federal siege.  (Only in the Keys!)

The Key West airport welcomes you to the Conch Republic.
The crazy stunt worked!  Not only was the blockade removed but it generated great publicity for the Keys and launched a whole new line of “Conch Republic” souvenirs.  While the succession was done in tongue-and-cheek fashion, the independence is still celebrated today with week-long festivities.  We are only sorry we won’t be here to partake in the 30th anniversary celebration – I bet it is a heck of a party!

The monument marking the southern most point
in the U.S. located in Key West.
But the crazed story of the conchs and their rebellious nature does not end with their self-declared independence.  In September 1995, the conchs got wind that the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion of the U.S Army Reserve was going to conduct a training exercise simulating an invasion of a foreign island.  The tactics were to land on Key West and conduct affairs as if the islanders were foreign.  However, no one from the  military notified Conch officials of the exercise.  Not one to miss a bet on publicly for the Conch Republic, Wardlow and his conchs mobilized the island for a full-scale war in order to protest the military for arranging the exercise without their prior knowledge.  FYI, in the Conch Republic, a rebellion involves firing water cannons from fireboats and hitting people with stale Cuban bread.  Military leaders issued an apology the next day, stating they "in no way meant to challenge or impugn the sovereignty of the Conch Republic", and submitted to a surrender ceremony on September 22.  Again, I state “only in the Keys!”

2 comments:

  1. Only in the Keys is right :-)) I knew part of the story, but hadn't heard about the military exercise part of it.

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  2. The Keys is a land unto itself! Hi Gals! We called for rez next year at Long Key and Curry Hammock and Reserve America says they are closed - guess they are renovating. We'll still try those, but wondering if you have any ideas for us for fall-back plans in the Keys- even non-state-parks, which we know are pricey but we could do a short stay.

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