My wife, Carla, and I are at the age when a drink from the Fountain of Youth sounds like a good idea. We were recently in St. Augustine, Fla., where the fountain has been doing a good business since Ponce de Leon first drank from it in 1513.
We were not expecting the attraction to be very impressive and were surprised by how much we learned. We first visited the original spot where the fountain poured forth its water. It’s now capped, but we were given a small glass of the sulfur-infested water. The cheerful guide, who said he was 140 years old because he had to drink so much water each day to prove it was drinkable, gave a short lecture on de Leon.
The Fountain of Youth room features two life-size dioramas: the Indian village and a scene of the Spanish coming ashore. De Leon and his men were greeted by a tribe of virtual giants, most of the men being more than 6 feet tall. Their strongly built leader was more than 7 feet tall. He would usually take the tallest woman in the tribe as his bride. This wouldn’t have been so interesting but for the fact that de Leon was the tallest of the Spanish soldiers on the trip and he was only 4 feet, 11 inches tall.
No wonder the natives greeted them warmly. After all, in a world where size counted, these little people would have been hard to take seriously as any kind of threat.
A misinterpretation of what the Indians said caused the Spaniards to believe this local spring was the fountain of youth. The average Spaniard died before the age of 40. They thought the chief of this tribe said he was 300 years old and that his father was still alive, albeit a bit decrepit. Regrettably, these magnificent specimens of good health and longevity did not have long to live because European diseases pretty much wiped them out.
De Leon immediately had casks of the water loaded onto the ship for his personal use.
Unfortunately, he died from an infection from a poisoned arrow in his leg as a result of encountering a tribe on the other coast, which wasn’t into friendly greetings of strangers in iron suits.
Next we moved to the most unusual display I’ve seen recently: a giant globe of the Earth about 20 feet in diameter and brightly lit from the inside. As music from "Star Wars" played, the curtain opened to this glowing Earth against a starry background.
The narrator told us of the initial voyages to the New World and also showed the sailing routes and the places where colonies were first established.
From here we went to a planetarium with a ship’s mast amidst the projection machinery and were given an introduction to how sailors in Columbus’ day sailed by the stars.
The rest of the attraction consisted of a building giving the history of the people who lived here with some very good discussion of how they lived, obtained their food and fought their wars. A grave had been discovered with many bodies of Indians who become Christians, and the Catholic Church formally re-interned them. We saw a marker near where de Leon came ashore and an archeological dig, covered when we were there, in which many artifacts have been found.