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The 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 at the top of the island chain that virtually stopped traffic on the only road connecting the Keys to mainland Florida.

In protest, local officials staged the secession and rechristened the Keys as 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 the republic, whose motto is “We Seceded Where Others Failed,” is recognized around the world as the Keys’ irreverent alter ego. Both the Conch Republic and the festival it inspired honor the island chain’s freewheeling character and self-reliant characters.

Fans and friends of the Conch Republic can celebrate this offbeat “nation’s” 42nd birthday April 19-28 in Key West, experiencing more than 20 colorful activities ranging from a pirate bash and quirky races to a “sea-to-sea” parade.

Conch Republic Birthday Bash Celebrations

The Wreckers Cup Race Series recalling the Keys’ seafaring heritage happens Sun., April 28 at Schooner Wharf Bar.

Activities begin Friday, April 19, with an opening ceremony and the raising of the colors at Key West’s landmark Mallory Square. A gala kick-off party is to follow at the Schooner Wharf Bar, 202 William St. in the Key West Historic Seaport.

The weekend’s highlights also include the outrageous 40th annual Conch Republic Drag Race. Slated for 2 p.m. Sat., April 20, in the 700 block of Duval Street, the race will feature fetchingly garbed female impersonators sprinting down the pavement in startlingly high heels.

The secession itself will be commemorated at 5:30 p.m. Tues., April 23, at the Truman Waterfront Pier next to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham museum ship. Hosted by Conch Republic dignitaries and military members, the ceremony is to include live music and a cash bar.

Other events include the so-called “World’s Loooooongest Parade” along Duval Street from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, a pirate ball and costume contest, the wacky “Blue Ribbon Bed Races” with decorated beds, a Hot Havana Nights dance party under the stars and a re-enactment of the “Great Sea Battle of the Conch Republic.”

The festival concludes Sun., April 28, after a lively artisan market, an open-air jazz performance and a sailing race that recalls the Florida Keys’ seafaring heritage.

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