A cannon salute kicks off 39 years of Conch Republic Independence. The celebration and associated events last through April 25. CONTRIBUTED

Conch Republic Independence events will take place through April 25, featuring sunset sails, bar crawls, pool bar crawls, a Saturday street fair and a host of other outrageous activities. Visit conchrepublic.com for a full schedule and online registration for individual events.

“The city has been extremely supportive of these events,” said producer Jim Gillernan. “Key West Mayor Teri Johnston felt safe enough to come to our Wearable Art Fashion Show at Key West Theater because we’ve strictly followed protocols and we didn’t embarrass the city.”

Here’s how the whole Conch Republic craze started, according to conchrepublic.com:

“The Conch Republic (also known as Key West and the Florida Keys), like many nations, was born from trouble. This trouble started in the dark days of March 1982, when the federal government placed a Border Patrol roadblock at the Last Chance Saloon in Florida City.

A 17-mile traffic jam immediately ensued as the Border Patrol stopped every car leaving or entering the Keys, supposedly searching for illegal drugs and immigrants who might be hiding under the front seats, in glove compartments and in trunks.

The media started reporting on the unprecedented action of the Border Patrol within the United States. After all, most everyone believed that the Florida Keys were indeed part of the United States. As the stories of the traffic jam spread across the nation and the world, visitors started canceling reservations to come to the Keys.

Community leaders started to gather around Mayor Dennis Wardlow to decide what to do. The lifeblood of a budding tourism industry was threatened and there was talk of secession, more for publicity than political reasons. At the urging of attorney David Paul Horan, an injunction was filed against the government’s action in federal court in Miami.

The court refused to prohibit the federal government’s Border Patrol from treating the Keys like a foreign country. When the Key West delegation left the courthouse, they were met by a gaggle of world press asking ‘What are you going to do, Mr. Mayor?’ and Mayor Wardlow answered, ‘We are going to go home and secede,’ and thus the Conch Republic was born.

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Jim Gilleran, center, has been producing Key West’s Conch Republic Independence Celebration for the past four years, and this year created COVID-safe events that ensured social distancing and mask protocols were followed. CONTRIBUTED

On April 23, 1982, the Conch Republic flag was raised over city hall and the Schooner Western Union, under command of Capt. John Kraus, went forth into the harbor and ‘attacked’ the US Coast Guard Cutter DILIGENCE with water balloons, Conch fritters and stale Cuban bread. The DILIGENCE fought back with fire hoses and thus commenced the Great Battle of the Conch Republic. Prime Minister Wardlow immediately surrendered and demanded foreign aid from the United States. (We’re still waiting for the check.) The roadblock was quietly removed and the glorious Conch Republic remained in its wake.

Note:  The secession and subsequent creation of the Conch Republic should not be viewed as a revolution against the United States of America. It was quite the opposite — a protest against the folly of zealotry resulting in the people of the Florida Keys being alienated as Americans.

The United States Coast Guard, the object of the first and only act of military aggression by the Conch Republic government, was never considered an ‘enemy.’ The U.S. Coast Guard DILIGENCE was merely a target of opportunity. Let no one ever get the impression that the U.S. Coast Guard has ever been considered anything other than a good friend. 

The Conch Republic exists as a sovereign state of mind, which signifies our vision of the America of which we are proud to be a part.”

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