Fountain of Youth
St. Augustine, Florida
The Fountain of Youth is a short drive down Williams Street, past The Old Jail and the abandoned Tragedy in U.S. History Museum. Promoted as "Florida's First Tourist Attraction" -- a reference to its ancient appeal -- it has signed guest books stretching back to 1868, but its start as a modern-day attraction dates to the early 1900s when it was run by Dr. Luella Day "Diamond Lil" McConnell, who sold the water for ten cents a glass. The doctor apparently abstained from drinking it herself, dying at the early age of 56 in 1927.
According to our tour guide, Ponce de Leon landed here on April 3, 1513. He was only 4' 11" and "all the men in a crew had to be shorter than their captain." This, according to our guide, made the Timucuan tribe who greeted them appear to be giants. A statue of one, Chief Oriba, stands on the grounds. It's been spray-painted gold. The chief appears to have once held an upraised weapon in his hand, but it's been removed.
The "Fountain" is actually not a fountain at all, but a natural spring. It's still here, bubbling away within The Spring House, the first building that you see when you enter the Fountain of Youth compound. A diorama of dummies has been built around the Fountain, showing an either too-short Chief Oriba or a too-tall de Leon. The scene is depicted as if the Spring were only a couple of steps from the surf line. It's really a distance of several hundred yards, and that's a long walk on a hot, muggy afternoon, even in early April.
In 1934 a burial pit of Timucuan skeletons was discovered within the Fountain of Youth compound. It was proclaimed as the "first Christian Indian burial" and a building was erected over it, sheltering the a sunken pit, circled on three sides by wall murals depicting Timucuan life. The building is still here but the skeletons are not; they were reburied in 1991. The pit is now filled with a large poster telling you that you can't see the skeletons any more.
In the gift shop, visitors are encouraged to fill bottles (supplied) with Fountain of Youth water at a reasonable price. Serious signs caution you from putting your mouth on the spigot (and getting too young too fast?) or from letting any of the precious liquid run down the drain.