There is a quote by Aristotle that says, “Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.” I feel that youth is deceived because it believes that youth will last forever. Becoming older does not change this delusion; rather makes one try to chase it. Throughout history there were tales of some fountain where one could have youth restored to an otherwise aging body. There is a story that Ponce de Leon was chasing that dream when he came to Florida in 1511. The story is not true, or at the very least, there is no record directly attributed to de Leon where he mentions it, but it has worked its way into the lore of Florida history. It is funny to me that there are several “documented” locations for the Fountain of Youth throughout the state, when the story goes that he never actually found the fabled spring.
Over the past couple of years I have photographed five different locations that try to attach Ponce de Leon to the myth of the Fountain of Youth. Each has its own historical marker that “proves” the fact that de Leon actually found the spring of healing waters at that particular location. The truth is that he did not find, nor did he even look for the fountain. Fact or fiction has never been a bother to Florida when it comes to an opportunity to attract northern tourist to the state. Beginning in 1511, Florida has treated visitors to its wonders, both actual and those made up. In the advertising world this is referred to as “ballyhoo” and from the landing of Pomce de Leon to Disney the state has been steeped in it. Please do not get me wrong I am not criticizing, for me it is very much part of the charm of the state, and it is part of who we are. I just find it humorous that there are so many locations for something that was never found.
The picture at the top is for De Leon Springs State Park, where Ponce de Leon has become a marketing tool. The bus stop add for a laundromat shows the 16th century explorer holding up a pair of boxers, that most likely did not exists in de Leon’s day. The entrance to the state park bearing his name show him with his arm around a young lady in a 20th century styled bathing suite. In the end the ballyhoo is a fun aspect of the history of Florida and how sometimes myths work themselves into an accepted part of history. It is interesting to me that Florida has had to resort to ballyhoo to create its allure when the weather, lovely natural landscape, and friendly people should be enough.