Recently I took a quick trip to Florida. It was unseasonably cold. It’s always unseasonably cold when I go to Florida. I call it my Florida Curse. It started over thirty years ago with a trip to Disney World and I apologize to anyone who happens to be in the state at the same time as me.
But I digress. Near to the house we visited in Venice was a small park named for Ponce de Leon. I dragged my husband over to take my picture in this park named for the explorer who “discovered” Florida and claimed it in the name of the Spanish king in 1513.
Jaun Ponce de Leon was a Conquistador who had traveled with Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the New World in 1493. While on his expeditions, he heard tales about magical springs that could make the old young again. The Native People of Cuba, Hispaniola, and the Bahamas claimed there was an island to the North, Bimini (or Beniny) where there was either a river, spring, or fountain that could restore youth. Not to mention, heaps and heaps of gold. In 1512 gold-crazy King Ferdinand gave Ponce de Leon a permit to search for Bimini. Instead, in 1513, he landed on Florida’s east coast. To be fair, the New World was indeed new, and people did not yet know how big it was. Ponce de Leon was not sure if Florida was an island or if it was attached to Mexico and the lands discovered by Cortes. Ponce de Leon landed in St. Augustine where today there is a tourist attraction and archaeological dig.
Or so the story goes. Researchers now believe this tale of Ponce de Leon’s quest for the Fountain of Youth may have been created by Spanish historians years after his expeditions. Some archaeological evidence shows that he may have landed 140 miles farther south than St. Augustine.
What is clear, however, is that whether or not he was looking for the fountain, he didn’t find it. He died in Cuba of a battle wound in 1521.
In The Water Castle, legend holds that Angus Appledore was an explorer who was given a land-grant by the King of England. He chose to come to Maine after his own expeditions to purported locations of the Fountain of Youth — including the mythical Bimini — convinced him that the fountain was located in the small town of Crystal Springs. Did he have better luck than Ponce de Leon? That’s the mystery of the novel.