Dozens of contestants are to blow their own horns in Key West Saturday, March 2. The 51st annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest is expected to draw entrants ranging in age from toddlers to seniors, all testing their pucker power on fluted conch shell horns.
Theyll take turns squawking, bleating or possibly even tootling something resembling music when the celebration of Key West's cultural heritage begins at noon in the tropical garden of the Oldest House Museum, 322 Duval St.
Blowing into the pink-lined mollusk shells was a tradition even before the islands settlement in the early 1800s. Natives from the Calusa tribe blew conch shells to communicate over distance, and early sailors are said to have used them as foghorns. Nineteenth-century shipwreck salvagers blew blasts to signal when a sinking ship was spotted.
Today, the chewy meat of the conch appears on local restaurant menus in chowder and fritters, two of the Florida Keys signature dishes. The shell itself has become a symbol of the Keys, often called the Conch Republic.
In the quirky conch honk contest, winners are chosen in multiple age groups for the quality, duration, loudness and novelty of the sounds they make. Musical ability is not required (or often displayed), though a few past pucker pros have produced portions of melodies ranging from Flight of the Bumblebee to rock classics.
Sponsored by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, the fun-filled competition is free to enter and watch.
Contestants can register at the Oldest House from 10:30 a.m. to noon March 2 or at the event itself if space is still available. The competition runs from noon to 2 p.m. Those lacking their own instruments can purchase conch shells on site.
Event information: www.oirf.org or 305-294-9501
Key West visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
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