Rarities, oddities, and other fun stuff

Out Of The Vault - Key West Independence Day – April 14, 2004

Now airing Thursday Evenings 6 pm - 7 pm - Hosted by Eric Davis

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with special guest Brad Brown

Key West is an island in the Straits of Florida on the North American continent, at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys. The island is about 90 miles from Cuba.  Key West is politically within the limits of the city of Key West, Monroe County, Florida, United States. The city also occupies portions of nearby islands.

The island is about 4 miles (6.4 km) long and 1 mile (1.6 km) wide, with a total land mass of 4.2 square miles. Duval Street, its famous main street, is a mere 1.1 miles in length in its 14-block crossing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Straits/Atlantic Ocean. In the late 1950s, many of the large salt ponds on the eastern side were filled in, nearly doubling the original land mass of the island. The island is 3,370 acres (13.6 km2) in area.

In Pre-Columbian times Key West was inhabited by the Calusa people. The first European to visit was Juan Ponce de León in 1521. As Florida became a Spanish colony, a fishing and salvage village with a small garrison was established here.

Cayo Hueso (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈkaʝo ˈweso]) is the original Spanish name for the island of Key West. Spanish-speaking people today also use the term Cayo Hueso when referring to Key West. It literally means "Bone Island" or "Bone Cay" (a low-lying island). It is said that the island was littered with the remains (bones) from a Native American battlefield or burial ground. The most widely accepted theory of how the name changed to Key West is that it is a false-friend anglicization of the word, on the ground that the word hueso [ˈweso]) sounds like "west" in English. Other theories of how the island was named are that the name indicated that it was the westernmost Key, or that the island was the westernmost Key with a reliable supply of water.

In 1763, when the Kingdom of Great Britain took control of Florida, the community of Spaniards and Native Americans were moved to Havana. Florida returned to Spanish control 20 years later, but there was no official resettlement of the island.

In 1815, the Spanish governor in Havana, Cuba, deeded the island of Key West to Juan Pablo Salas, an officer of the Royal Spanish Navy Artillery posted in St. Augustine, Florida. The island was indeed considered the "Gibraltar of the West" because of its strategic location on the 90-mile wide deep shipping lane, the Straits of Florida, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. On March 25, 1822, Matthew C. Perry sailed the schooner USS Shark (1821) to Key West and planted the U.S flag, physically claiming the Keys as United States property. Perry reported on piracy problems in the Caribbean.

Many of the residents of Key West were immigrants from the Bahamas, known as Conchs (pronounced 'conks'), who arrived in increasing numbers after 1830. Many were descendants of Loyalists who fled to the nearest Crown colony during the American Revolution. In the 20th century many residents of Key West started referring to themselves as "Conchs", and the term is now generally applied to all residents of Key West. Some residents use the term "Conch" to refer to a person born in Key West, while the term "Freshwater Conch" refers to a resident not born in Key West but who has lived in Key West for seven years or more. However, the true original meaning of Conch applies only to someone with European ancestry who immigrated from the Bahamas.

The Conch Republic (República de la Concha) is a micronation declared as a tongue-in-cheek secession of the city of Key West, Florida from the United States on April 23, 1982. It has been maintained as a tourism booster for the city since. Since then, the term "Conch Republic" has been expanded to refer to "all of the Florida Keys, or, that geographic apportionment of land that falls within the legally defined boundaries of Monroe County, Florida, northward to 'Skeeter's Last Chance Saloon' in Florida City, Dade County, Florida, with Key West as the nation's capital and all territories north of Key West being referred to as 'The Northern Territories'."

 

While the protest that sparked the creation of the Conch Republic (and others which have occurred since then) have been described by some as "tongue-in-cheek", they were motivated by frustrations over genuine concerns. The original protest event was motivated by a U.S. Border Patrol roadblock and checkpoint which greatly inconvenienced residents and was detrimental to tourism in the area.

As part of the protest, Mayor Wardlow was proclaimed Prime Minister of the Republic, which immediately declared war against the U.S. (symbolically breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a naval uniform), quickly surrendered after one minute (to the man in the uniform), and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid.

The Conch Republic celebrates Independence Day every April 23 as part of a week-long festival of activities involving numerous businesses in Key West. The organization – a "Sovereign State of Mind," seeking only to bring more "Humor, Warmth and Respect" to a world in sore need of all three according to its Secretary General, Peter Anderson – is a key tourism booster for the area.

Conch Republic officials were invited to the Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994, and Conch representatives were officially invited to 1995's Florida Jubilee.  The mock secession and the events surrounding it generated great publicity for the Keys' plight — the roadblock and inspection station were removed soon afterward. It also resulted in the creation of a new avenue of tourism for the Keys.

In the late 19th century, salt and salvage declined as industries, but Key West gained a thriving cigar-making industry.

By 1889 Key West was the largest and wealthiest city in Florida.

Many Cubans moved to Key West during Cuba's unsuccessful war for independence in the 1860s and 1870s.

Key West was relatively isolated until 1912, when it was connected to the Florida mainland via the Overseas Railway extension of Henry M. Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway (FEC). Flagler created a landfill at Trumbo Point for his railyards. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 destroyed much of the railroad and killed hundreds of residents, including around 400 World War I veterans who were living in camps and working on federal road and mosquito control projects in the Middle Keys. The FEC could not afford to restore the railroad.

The U.S. government then rebuilt the rail route as a highway, completed in 1938, which became an extension of United States Highway 1. The portion of U.S. 1 through the Keys is called the Overseas Highway. Franklin Roosevelt toured the road in 1939.

The Ernest Hemingway House, a popular tourist attraction in Key West.  Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway wrote part of A Farewell to Arms while living above the showroom of a Key West Ford dealership at 314 Simonton Street while awaiting delivery of a Ford Model A roadster purchased by the uncle of his wife Pauline in 1928.

Hardware store owner Charles Thompson introduced him to deep-sea fishing. Among the group who went fishing was Joe Russell (also known as Sloppy Joe). Russell was reportedly the model for Freddy in To Have and Have Not. Portions of the original manuscript were found at Sloppy Joe's Bar after his death. The group had nicknames for each other, and Hemingway wound up with "Papa".

Pauline's rich uncle Gus Pfeiffer bought the 907 Whitehead Street house in 1931 as a wedding present. Legend says the Hemingways installed a swimming pool for $20,000 in the late 1930s (equivalent in 2013 to $330,000). It was such a high price that Hemingway is said to have put a penny in the concrete, saying, "Here, take the last penny I've got!" The penny is still there.

During his stay he wrote or worked on Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. He used Depression-era Key West as one of the locations in To Have and Have Not — his only novel with scenes that occur in the United States.

Key West is closer to Havana than it is to Miami.

In 1984, the city opened a pier right on Mallory Square. The decision was met with considerable opposition from people who felt it would disrupt the tradition of watching the sunset at Mallory Square.

The original Key West neighborhood in the west (although perceived as south) is called "Old Town" and comprises the Key West Historic District. It includes the major tourist destinations of the island, including Mallory Square, Duval Street, the Truman Annex and Fort Zachary Taylor. It is where the classic bungalows and guest mansions are found.

One of the biggest attractions on the island is a concrete replica of a buoy at the corner of South and Whitehead Streets that claims to be the southernmost point in the contiguous 48 states (see Extreme Points for more information.) The point was originally just marked with a sign, however the city of Key West erected the now famous monument in 1983. Brightly painted and labeled "SOUTHERNMOST POINT CONTINENTAL U.S.A.", it is one of the most visited and photographed attractions in the United States .  Land on the Truman Annex property just west of the buoy is the southernmost point of Key West, but still not the southernmost point of the continental US, and it has no marker since it is U.S. Navy land and cannot be entered by civilian tourists. The private yards directly to the east of the buoy and the beach areas of Truman Annex and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park also lie farther south than the buoy. The farthest-south location that the public can visit is the beach at the state park for a small entrance fee. Florida's true southernmost point is Ballast Key, a privately owned island just south and west of Key West.

The Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum preserves the history of the Key West Lighthouse, built in 1847.

PrideFest is seven days of events, presented by the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Key West during the first week in June. The schedule includes the Pride Follies talent extravaganza; contests to select a Mr., Ms. and Miss PrideFest; parties; a tea dance; and the PrideFest Parade down Duval Street.

In 1979, the Key West Tourist Development Association, Inc., started Fantasy Fest to attract tourists at the traditionally slow time of Halloween, which is at the end of the hurricane season. Fantasy Fest regularly attracts approximately 80,000 people to the island and has become a huge success.


John Mellencamp – KEY WEST INTERMEZZO

Jimmy Buffett – A SALTY PIECE OF LAND

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Rick Steffer – SLOPPY JOE’S

Gerd Rube – KEY WEST SUNSET

Tom Cochrane – SINKING LIKE A SUNSET

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Michael McCloud – CONCH REPUBLIC SONG (LIVE)

Leo Dean – OLD KEY WEST

Key West Chris – MILE ZERO

Howard Livingston – KEYSIFIED