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A sovereign nation celebrates 35 years after breaking from the U.S.

The bed races are a big part of the Conch Republic Independence Celebration.
The bed races are a big part of the Conch Republic Independence Celebration.

It began with a roadblock set up by the U.S. Border Patrol, an irritated Florida Keys populace staging a ceremonial secession from the union and a symbolic attack on a hapless government official with a loaf of stale Cuban bread.

Thirty-five years later, residents and visitors can celebrate the anniversary of the Conch Republic’s birth April 21 through 30.

The Conch Republic Independence Celebration’s irreverent activities include a “drag” race among female impersonators, a good-natured sea battle featuring historic ships, a parade down Key West’s Duval Street and a bed race billed as the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on.

The republic, whose motto is “We seceded where others failed,” was born to combat a 1982 Border Patrol blockade of the Florida Keys that threatened to derail the region’s emerging tourism-based economy. Its stated mission is to bring “more humor, warmth and respect to a world in sore need of all three.”

The public is invited to join members of the Conch Republic Navy and others at noon April 21 for the raising of the Conch Republic colors at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, adjacent to the Truman Waterfront at the end of Southard Street.

The 35th anniversary celebration’s opening weekend includes the Great Conch Republic Drag Race scheduled for 2 p.m. April 22 in the 700 block of Duval Street. Rather than speeding dragsters, the offbeat challenge features sprinting drag queens attired in dresses, full makeup and high heels mandated by race rules.

Other highlights include the World’s Longest Parade, set for 8 p.m. April 27, so named because its route down Duval Street proceeds from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. April 29 brings a charity bed race on Duval Street.

Among other festival attractions are an Earth Day concert, Conch Republic royal family election, March of the Sea Dogs Pet Stroll, food and crafts fest, bar stroll and treasure hunt, fun runs and parties. For specifics, go to www.conchrepublic.com.

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