ABOARD THE CARNIVAL VICTORY – It might have been the shortest naval battle in history.
“We declared war on the United States and threw stale Cuban bread at Navy officers,” guide Bob Lutz said. “It lasted for about a minute. Then we surrendered and asked for $1 billion in foreign aid to rebuild. We’re still waiting for that $1 billion.”
When the Carnival Victory docked for the day in Key West, many of us climbed aboard a Conch Train open tram to tour around the unusual community. The tram is a great way to see some of Key West landmarks and to hear stories of Key West’s past, including how the place got its nickname of the Conch Republic.
“You are in the Conch Republic,” driver Lutz said, gesturing to a Conch Republic flag on a porch. “We are proud to be Americans and we are proud to be Conchs. Our local high school sports team is the Fighting Conchs.”
And the correct pronunciation of the word “conch” is “conk,” Lutz said. “It’s like a conk on the head. Don’t pronounce it ‘consch’ or people will know you’re a tourist.”
The problem that created the Conch Republic began in 1982 when U.S. Border Patrol set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Florida Keys so agents could search cars for contraband. Since the checkpoint was on the only road into and out of the island chain, traffic was brought to a standstill. A 17-mile-long traffic jam resulted.
Visitors to the area were upset and decided to take their time and money elsewhere rather than sit in stalled traffic.
The roadblock also angered residents and Keys officials who complained that the Keys were being treated as a foreign country. Citizens should be able to come and go more freely, they argued.
Seceding from the Union
When their protests were ignored, Keys residents decided to secede from the Union. On April 23, 1982, the southernmost point in the continental United States did just that. They seceded from the United States of America and formed the Conch Republic.
“The roadblock was quickly removed,” Lutz said. “That is why our motto is ‘We seceded where others failed.’ We celebrate
In fact, a 10-day Conch Republic Independence Celebration is held every April. In a town known for its parties, the annual celebration is legendary. That is one thing I quickly learned to like about Key West.
In addition to its colorful characters, laidback atmosphere, renowned Key Lime Pie, balmy weather, many museums, fishing fun and fascinating history, Key West is the only place I know that publicly celebrates the end of every day.
Folks gather in Mallory Square to salute the sinking of the sun and to watch for the famed green flash – a special glint of light in the water at sunset.
I think I could get used to that. Celebrate every day and live life to the fullest. Good philosophy to have no matter where you are.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch