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Does the Key to the City Actually Open Anything?


The short answer: no.

The long answer: Once upon a time, being presented with the key to the city served a real function. In ancient times, when it was common for European towns to be ringed by walls, visiting dignitaries were presented with a key to the city gate as a gesture of trust and kindness; these particular visitors could come and go as they pleased with the assumption that they wouldn’t be returning with a militia to lay siege to the city.

Today’s gesture of presenting keys is similar in sentiment if not function. And sometimes, not surprisingly, it’s just a PR stunt (see Kardashians, below). When mayors present keys to their cities these days, they’re also a lot fancier than I imagine those old gate keys were: the ones handed out by New York City are gold-plated.

An incomplete list of people who have received keys to cities:

Saddam Hussein received the key to Detroit in 1980 after making a sizable donation to a church there.
The Kardashian-Jenner family received the key to Beverly Hills in 2010.
Pilot Chesley Sullenberger (above) received the keys to New York City and to his hometown of Danville, California, after safely landing a plane in the Hudson River after birds were sucked into the engine.
Regis Philbin received the key to NYC two years later when he retired from his TV gig.
Usher was given a key to New Orleans in recognition of his charitable work.
Members of the Jackson 5 were each awarded the key to their hometown of Gary, Indiana.
Members of the Three 6 Mafia have keys to the city of Memphis.
Axl Rose can open up imaginary doors in West Valley City, Utah.
Cher angered a bunch of Aussies earlier this year when she sold her key to Adelaide, Australia, for $96,000 on eBay. She received the key in 1990 for performing at the Formula One Grand Prix there. She responded to the backlash on Twitter: “’I’m upset 2 & trying 2get2 bottom! I think my office f***** up?”

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