Friday, April 2, 2010

Drinking From the Fountain

Magnet # 207: Ponce De Leon at the Fountain of Youth

Material: Metal

Purchased By: Me

This is the day that Ponce de Leon landed in Eastern Florida in what many believe to be St. Augustine during his search for the Fountain of Youth. Okay, so he wasn't actually sent out to find the Fountain of Youth, but according to legend, it became a major part of his travels. The year was 1513 and Ponce de Leon was in search of the islands of Bimini. He never did find them, but he was the first European to set foot on Florida. He even gave it that name - some say it was because the word means "full of flowers" and he saw so many there. Others claim that he named it after the Easter season, the time during which he arrived - Pascua Florida is the Spanish name for the religious holiday. Ponce de Leon actually thought that Florida was an island - he had no idea that the land he had claimed for Spain stretched out across an entire continent. He and his men only stayed in the area for about five days before sailing down the southern coast of Florida. They made it all the way to the Keys and even to the western side of the peninsula. Some believe they even reached St. Petersburg and Tampa. Eventually, Ponce de Leon and his fleet returned to their point of departure, Puerto Rico. They had been gone about 8 months and discovered many lands in the New World that no Europeans had ever seen. After putting down an Indian conflict that arisen during his absence, Ponce De Leon returned to Spain in 1514 to tell King Ferdinand V about what he had found. He, in turn, charged the explorer to return and colonize Florida. Ponce de Leon returned on two ships with about 200 men. However, the trip was a short one for Ponce de Leon, who died before the year was over after he was shot by an arrow during another Indian conflict. The stories of his encounter with the Fountain of Youth are said to have begun after his death, but perhaps he did drink from its waters - he lived to be around 46 years old, which exceeded the average life span of his time.

Visitors to St. Augustine can still stop by the Fountain of Youth, which claims to be same one that Ponce de Leon drank from - of course, that's open to debate. Admission gets them into a complex of about five buildings. The tour kicks off in the Spring House, where there are dioramas of the Native Americans who lived in the area first meeting the Spaniards. There, they give you a little plastic cup filled with the famed water so you can have a taste for yourself. As I remember, it's a bit salty. The guide tells the story of de Leon and his search for the Fountain of Youth and then the tour moves on to the Discovery Globe, a two-story high globe that, along with black light, illustrates the New World and the Spanish treks there. The final building the tour visits is the Planetarium, for a 15 minute look at the stars and constellations at the time of Ponce de Leon's journey. From there, visitors can walk the 15 acre grounds on their own. There are statues, other buildings, cannons, and anchors to have a look at. And a fountain is also visible, although it's fenced off from the public. There are also peacocks wandering the grounds. It's a pretty place, and while its technology might be a little dated, it's still fun to check out. Yes, there are better museums and locations to be seen in the historic town of St. Augustine, but the Fountain of Youth is not very expensive and it's fun. If you're in the city and are curious to check it out, I'd say give it a try. And you never know, drinking the waters might help you improve the quality and length of your life, as Ponce de Leon claimed it would. Not very likely, but why not give it a shot- bottom's up!

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