Where did the ongoing ‘do a good deed and the mayor of the town congratulates you with the key to the city’ in movies & shows come from? Was that ever a real thing?

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I’m watching family guy & Peter found a missing kid and as a reward the mayor gave him the key to the city (or town hall?).
I’ve also seen this happen in a few other movies.

Was this ever a real thing? Is this an inside joke I’m not aware of?

In: 2567

19 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

The “key to the city” comes from serfdom, where it was originally called the “freedom of the city,” meaning that the honored person was to be treated as a free person, not a serf, while they were in the city. The “key to the city” derives from the custom of walled cities closing and locking their gates up at night; if you wanted to enter, you’d either have to wait until morning or convince a guard that you had an important enough reason to open the gates. However, if you have a “key” to the gates, that meant that you could open them whenever you wished; you had the freedom to enter/exit the city as you desired. Hence, the “key to the city” phrase replaced “freedom of the city”.

It is entirely symbolic/honorific. Since serfdom is long gone, there are no privileges or protections to be gained by not being a serf, so getting a “key to the city” is just an indicator that the city government appreciates something you’ve done.

Anonymous 0 Comments

In the city I grew up in, Santa was given the key to the city each year at the Thanksgiving parade… or it may have been at the tree lighting ceremony.

Anonymous 0 Comments

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Anonymous 0 Comments

Yes this was a real thing.

Here’s Saddam Hussein receiving the key to the city of Detroit

https://images.app.goo.gl/ypk2ajXLH8gDvCvHA

Anonymous 0 Comments

Yes, it was real, here’s KISS receiving the keys to the city in Sault Ste Marie for some bizarre reason 😆
https://blabbermouth.net/news/kiss-receives-city-key-to-sault-ste-marie-video-available

Anonymous 0 Comments

I’ve been to a couple of events where the mayor of my hometown gave out keys to the city to the guest of honor and each time he would always joke “There’s nothing in the vault!”

Anonymous 0 Comments

Weird coincidence, I did some 3am wikipedia surfing hours ago and stumbled on Mac Miller’s wikipedia page which says that he was given a “key to the city” by the mayor of Pittsburgh, his hometown.

So yes its a real thing, but I think it is less about just doing a good deed and more about who the state deems an honorable person who came from there, and Mac Miller (rest in peace) being a famous musician was awarded such an honor. Think of it like the UK knighting a British celebrity on a much smaller and less grandiose scale.

Anonymous 0 Comments

This girl I know made cute headbands for kids with cancer and made some sort of organization for donations and stuff they gave her a key to the city

Anonymous 0 Comments

I live in Chicagoland. Years ago when my twins were little, we took them to Lincoln Park zoo. On the way in, we got stopped by the local ABC news crew as they were asking people random questions about the news we watched. They asked if we’d be ok with being in camera to answer the questions and at the end they had us say the name of our town. I did and thought nothing of it until about 6 months later they started to air 30 second commercials with all the people they stopped through Chicago that summer.

I got included in the commercial and I found it on YouTube and emailed it to my towns Mayor asking for an honorary key to the city.

He politely declined my request. Can’t say I blame him.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I actually know someone who was awarded a key to the city of Paris France. I can’t remember what he did but I’ve seen the actual key and proclamation.