Do not get the Fountain of Youth mixed up with the toddler’s pool
During the Age of Exploration, when European global exploration took off in the 15th century AD, interest in such a mythical fountain of youth had not waned. The New World of the Americas began to be seen as a potential location for a fountain of eternal youth. The Caribbean in particular was considered a prime candidate, as many islanders spoke of a lost land of wealth and prosperity known as Bimini, which became entwined with the legend of a fountain of youth. The Fountain of Youth was a hot topic in those days. The Spanish historian, Lopez de Gomara, wrote of Indian accounts of a magical river, waterfall, or spring that could reverse aging and could be found in the lands north of Cuba and Haiti. Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, an Italian geographer living in Spain, in 1513 wrote of the fountain as well, saying:
One name has become inextricably linked to the quest for the Fountain of Youth is that of the Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de León, who was the first governor of Puerto Rico and, in 1513, led the first European expeditions into what would become Florida. It was alleged that during his explorations of Florida, while looking to find lost gold and claim land for Spain, the explorer had the ulterior motive of finding the lost land of Bimini and thus the Fountain of Youth, which he was convinced existed. It was claimed that during his forays into Florida, the explorer would unofficially go off with a small contingent of men in an effort to locate the fountain.
Although Ponce de León became connected to and perhaps best known for his quest for the Fountain of Youth, it has long been debated as to just how much fact there is to this story. One of the problems lies in the fact that there are virtually no surviving records of the expeditions to Florida written by Ponce de León himself, and the fountain is not mentioned in any that do exist. Most accounts that we now have were actually written long after his death by native arrow in 1521. Nevertheless, historical references to the explorer’s obsession with the mythical fountain abound. One of the best sources of information on Ponce de León’s travels and search for the fountain is the writings of Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, who was the Chief Historian of the Indies in 1596. Amongst his accounts, Herrera wrote in his impressively titled record Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del Mar Oceano of Ponce de León’s quest:
Although there is a certain romantic element to the idea of Ponce de León going off in search of fabled lands and mystical springs in the jungles of ancient Florida, it is uncertain if it ever happened at all. In the end, we are left with scattered historical documents that were written after Ponce de León’s death and none of which were written by the explorer himself, leaving his true intent and what really happened lost to the mists of time.
This uncertainty regarding the historical quest for the Fountain of Youth has not stopped the legend from enduring. Some even claim that the explorer was successful in his mission, indeed possibly still alive somewhere out there, enjoying his perpetual youth. To this day, there is a spring said to be the actual one that Ponce de León was searching for in St. Augustine, Florida, which is said to be the oldest city in the U.S. The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine has become a popular tourist destination, where visitors can drink cups of water from the fabled spring. The park has seen various important archeological finds, such as an ancient cemetery and the ruins of missions dating back to the city’s founding. Although the site undoubtedly has historical value, the elderly people who come to visit in droves have yet to miraculously regain their youth, and it is doubted if Ponce de León ever even set foot in St. Augustine.
The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, St. Augustine, Florida
Whether Ponce de León ever really did search for the Fountain of Youth, there have nevertheless been stories over the years of those who have claimed to have found it. In 1989, the author Charlie Carlson allegedly interviewed a man who claimed to be a member of a secret society that had located the Fountain of Youth and were tasked with protecting it. The interviewee claimed to be 93 years old, whereas Carlson described him as looking around 40. The man claimed that the fountain had been found sometime before 1845 and that it was his society’s duty to make sure that it remained secret from the world. This anonymous informant reportedly offered proof to back up his claims in the form of census records for all of the members who had lived past 110 years old, of which there were quite a few. Some had apparently lived to be up to 122 years old while appearing to be much younger. Although many had died in accidents such as drowning, against which the magical waters offered no protection, not a single one was found to have died of old age. Is there really a secret cabal of immortals out there who have drunk from the fountain and have pledged to eternally hide its secret? Nobody knows.