The republic’s birth on April 23, 1982, was motivated by a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint set up unexpectedly at the top of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. As agents searched departing cars for illegal drugs and other contraband, the checkpoint stopped traffic on the only road connecting mainland Florida with the island chain.
The Border Patrol’s action infuriated Florida Keys officials, residents and visitors caught in the miles-long traffic jam. After pleas to federal officials were denied, a group led by Key West’s then-mayor, Dennis Wardlow, protested by staging the “secession,” announcing the creation of the Conch Republic and raising its royal blue flag.
“If they're going to treat us as a foreign country, we're going to become a foreign country -- and it's just been amazing that here we are, 40 years later, and it's still going strong,” said Wardlow, who became the republic’s first prime minister.
Today the offbeat, welcoming republic is recognized around the world as the Florida Keys’ irreverent alter ego.
Wardlow and other Conch Republic dignitaries took part in Friday’s events, including a flag raising and conch shell salute, that began the annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration.
“Forty years later, we still open our arms to everyone,” said Wardlow. “And the government has not put up any border checkpoints and they haven't messed with us.”
The celebration continues through Sunday, April 24. Other planned highlights include a lighthearted sea battle showcasing the maritime skills of the republic’s “Navy,” a drag race for female impersonators and an open-air bed race billed as "the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on."
Story: Key West Begins 40th Anniversary Celebration of Conch Republic’s Birth
Locator Super: Key West, Fla.
Video: Video to match this story is available on the Florida Keys News Bureau's FTP server (download details below) or can be downloaded via Google Drive link.
Spot B-roll of Conch Republic celebrations including flag raising; archival images from April 1982 secession; spot SOTs with Dennis Wardlow (:42-:53 and 2:03-2:30), Key West mayor in 1982 and first “prime minister” of the Conch Republic.
Video Source: Florida Keys News Bureau
Folder: News Video
Access and download files from the FTP site using dedicated software such as Fetch.