Libraries Round the World: Welcome to the Conch Republic

Yes, there is a rebel faction in the Florida Sunshine State. In 1982, the city of Key West, at the southern tip of Florida, seceded from the Union. They created a micro-nation, The Conch Republic.

Key West from our cruise ship, the Carnival Freedom

The disagreement with the USA was over US Border Patrol roadblocks and checkpoints. This slowed everyone down, including important people like me – the tourists. This time I arrived on a cruise ship, avoiding any road delays. But, it’s a four-hour drive from Miami, so who wants to run into that problem!

The proud blue flag of the Conch Republic

The government sensibly backed off, but the Conch Republic is still alive and well. Flags are everywhere. With what may be the world’s two best mottos: We Seceded Where Others Failed and The Mitigation of World Tension through the Exercise of Humor. Why not have two, and what’s not to love? But don’t rub them the wrong way!  Their weapons of choice reportedly include water balloons, conch fritters, and stale Cuban bread. 

Conch shells

For those that haven’t tasted or seen one, conchs are medium to large-sized shells and look like the house for a large sea snail. In North America, conchs are often identified as queen conchs, indigenous to the waters of the Bahamas. In the ocean, they may contain a mollusk that is edible and frequently cooked in a fritter, a doughy fried ball.

All residents of Key West are both American citizens and Conchs.  If you were born there, you get the extra-special title of Saltwater Conch. Newer residents are called Freshwater Conchs. So, as you can see, knowing about conchs is critical! 

The southernmost tip of the continental USA

Not all the locals are super friendly, though. One of the many Key West Gypsy chickens and roosters, free agents that roam around everywhere, must have been camera shy. Or maybe hungry since the pecking was fruitless. Or it could be, he didn’t like my smell. 

In my attempt to have someone or something else in the photo beside me, I got a quick peck and scratch on the arm. Nothing serious – my arm is fine. But getting a chicken coop for fresh eggs when I retire to the country is now off the list. 

A camera shy rooster (probably hungry!)

And don’t get any ideas about a free chicken dinner. It’s illegal to hurt these birds! Rumors say it dates back to voodoo practices when these feathered friends were sacrificed. But it’s probably from when cockfighting became outlawed.

The rooster pecking around the library’s historical marker

And, before I forget, I promised you a library! The local library, officially the Key West May Hill Russell Library, was established in 1892 but in another location. This is the oldest public library in the South Florida Keys.

Mom inside the library next to pretty local tile art – notice the conchs!

The library’s namesake, Mrs. Russell, was a library director in the 1960s and a key supporter of initiatives to preserve and protect Key West’s historical records. 

Karen in front of the ‘pretty in pink’ library

The library is well worth a visit to see the artwork. They had an ample supply of used books for sale to visitors. This library also has an outdoor patio and garden that appeared to be suffering from a minor case of heatstroke. Utterly understandable since this was mid-September with temperatures reaching the feels-like-level of 100 degrees that day. But the outdoor space could be great during the rest of the year. 

The fountain on the library’s patio

Famous writer Ernest Hemingway’s former home in Key West is now a museum. The tour is a definite must for cat lovers since over fifty of this special breed of six-toed cats roam throughout the property.  I didn’t get a chance to visit again this time.

Hemingway’s house almost hidden from view

And there is also a nearby bookstore: Books & Books at the Studio of Key West. A part-time resident (half Conch?) and cofounder of the shop, is the children and young adult book writer, Judy Blume. She’s most known for the once controversial and banned book, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Books & Books Bookstore

Luckily, I haven’t heard about anyone banning any of my books or my blogs. At least, not yet! 

Best deal around – a library card!

Karen Stensgaard is the author of AQUAVIT and BLUENESS, the first two books in the Aquamarine Sea series. 

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