• Mel Dick

Red Skies, Winter Weather and Conchs!!!







Another great sunrise this morning. Key West is decked out for the holidays. Like everything else about Key West, some decorations are a bit unusual to say the least....the large blow-up of The Grinch and the eerie large skull on top of a decorated home!


Winter has arrived in the Keys. After great early morning weather, it has been cool and rainy all day. High for tomorrow will be 68. Now I know for those of you in Northern Idaho, that would be a balmy day, especially on December 1st, but for the "Conchs" in Key West it will mean bundling up with winter coats and everyone talking about how cold it is. You might ask what is a Conch? When people speak of the Key West Conch, they may be referring to the large sea snail that lives in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico surrounding the Florida Keys. But most often the term refers to Key West natives—the first settlers and the long-time residents of Key West.


Americans loyal to the British crown after the war, Tories, were not very popular, so they fled the southern states to the next British colony, the Bahamas. Unfortunately, the British Parliament started taxing the Bahamians on their food just like they taxed Bostonians on their tea. The Bahamians said they'd rather eat conch than pay taxes and that is just what they did....they came up with 27 different ways in fact. Throughout the years, many came to know and use the term Conch to describe the locals, and those who made Key West their home were proud to be nicknamed Key West Conchs.


In April of 1982, the city of Key West declared itself the Conch Republic. This historic event was an act of protest against the United States Border Patrol when a blockade was set-up on US Highway 1, just north of the entrance into the Florida Keys to search vehicles for narcotics and illegal immigrants. Visitors and residents alike were stopped, asked for identification and forced to prove their American citizenship. An uproar ensued—how could the United States shut-off the only land route into the Keys? Key West tourism suffered and as such the economy in the Keys began to decline.


Key West's mayor at the time and several determined Key Conchs went to Federal court in Miami to seek an injunction to stop the federal blockade. When their plea was denied, the mayor told TV reporters that the following day the Florida Keys would secede from the Union. The next day, as promised, the mayor stood in Mallory Square and led the Conch Republic Rebellion which lasted approximately one minute and was followed by a surrender to the US Navy Admiral in Key West. Although these events took place many years ago, the name Conch Republic stuck and those who live in the Florida Keys officially hold dual citizenship—they are American Citizens and Conchs! To this day if you are born in Key West you are a conch. If you are born elsewhere but live here seven years you become a fresh water conch.

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