The Fountain of Youth 500 Years Later

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Many plans are afloat to commemorate the 1513 landing of explorer Ponce de León in Florida.  He was said to be looking for the fountain of youth, but instead found a land so full of springtime flowers that he named it “La Florida.” 

The Sunshine State is eager for visitors to appreciate its rich history, so Secretary of State Ken Detzner is heading VivaFlorida 500, a commission to help organize a full year of events. The quincentennial commemorates many players and eras, including Florida’s vital, but often forgotten, role in both the American Revolution and Civil War.  Tall ships will circumnavigate the state, and numerous festivals will celebrate food and heritage.

Of course, Ponce de León’s landing will be reenacted. But where, exactly, was that? It’s such a matter of contention that the Florida Historical Society plans to kick off the year with a mock trial at the historic courthouse of Palm Beach County to debate the alternatives. 

“Lawyers will present evidence for whether the landing was in St. Augustine, Ponce de León Inlet, Melbourne, or Jupiter Island,” says Ben Brotemarkle, the Society’s Executive Director. 

The verdict is already known. “It will be hopelessly deadlocked,” predicts Brotemarkle, who should know because he has appointed himself judge. 

A few years later, Ponce de León organized a second expedition to the territory, but when he and his 200 would-be colonists landed in the vicinity of Charlotte Harbor, they were soon attacked by warriors of the powerful Calusa tribe. Rather than finding the fountain of youth, Ponce was struck by an arrow poisoned with the sap of the Manchineel tree and died several days later.