In April of 1982, after the Federal government set up a series of road- blocks in the Keys to screen for illegal drugs and aliens, outraged residents banned together in a mock public protest.
It was not that they wanted to shelter illegal aliens or help drug traffickers, but they resented the intrusion.
Hoisting a flag adorned with a conch shell, hundreds of Key West residents gathered in Mallory Square, ceremoniously seceded from the state, handed out passports, and declared their land the new Conch Republic.
The celebration, done in jest with more than a hint of sarcasm, lasted for a week and has since become a popular annual event that reinforces the distinct island mentality of the Keys.
This island mentality pervades every aspect of life in the Keys.
Today, descendants of the original Conchs still call themselves by that name and relish their independence. Although dwindling in numbers, the Conchs (a true Conch is someone who was ‘born on the rock” of Key West) are granted a certain amount of respect in the Keys and are somewhat supercilious towards the many newcomers who revel in their new-found island lifestyles.
These newcomers include aspiring artists and writers, fishermen and women, retirees from the Northeast and Midwest (looking for sunshine and taking advantage of Florida’s favorable taxation rates), former hippies, Cuban refugees, New Age devotees, street entertainers, and free spirits of all kinds who are fleeing from boring lives elsewhere.
Something very similar to the “spirit life” of Miami Beach.
For most of these newcomers, life in the Keys means not having to wear socks, or commute on subways, not cut their hair, or live by someone else’s rule. It means the freedom to drink rum all day long if they choose to go fishing when the tide is right, and take life one day at a time – all the things that are no longer possible in most late 20th-century societies off course.
The population of the Keys – which is currently about 80,000 – can perhaps best be described as a loose organization of anarchists.
But alongside this relatively small indigenous population, the Keys are inundated with over 3 million tourists every year. Representing over 90 percent of the region’s economy, these tourists come to marvel at the vast expanses of water and sky, snorkel along the coral reefs, indulge in a little island craziness, and take in that potent natural perfume of salt, seaweed, fish residue and marsh before they return home relaxed, refreshed, and convinced that the world is not such a bad place after all.
InsideMiamiBeach.com, like no other.