Finding the Fountain of Youth:
Ponce de León and Florida's Magical Waters

Rick Kilby

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"Just seeing the nostalgic advertisements, postcards, and photos is enough to make readers reclaim their own youth, no matter how far removed from it they may be."--Tim Hollis, author of Selling the Sunshine State

"Tells the story of how a myth became so pervasive in Florida culture--to the point that Fountains of Youth sprang up all over."--Lu Vickers, author of Weeki Wachee Mermaids

Juan Ponce de León reached the shores of Florida on April 2, 1513. Although historians have long debunked the myth of the conquistador's search for the Fountain of Youth, his fabled quest remains inextricably tied to the image of the Sunshine State. Even today, Florida's mythical, magical waters--some reputed to have healing powers--remain a potent part of the state's appeal for tourists and residents alike.

Featuring reproductions of eye-catching postcards, vintage advertisements, vibrant photos, and other "Ponceabilia," Finding the Fountain of Youth reveals how Florida itself has been transformed into a veritable Fountain of Youth, a paradisiacal playground, a utopia of rejuvenating springs and beautiful mermaids.

More than a collection of nostalgic kitsch, however, the book also addresses the very real problem of protecting Florida's fragile springs. These pristine waters--numbering more than 700--were once revered by the Timucua and Calusa and celebrated by a variety of writers, including William Bartram and Harriet Beecher Stowe. In time, some became known as Panacea Springs or Epiritu Santo Springs, new names meant to extol their sacred nature to visitors in polka-dotted bathing suits and Panama hats. Today, world-famous sites such as Silver Springs, known for crystal-clear underwater photographs and iconic glass-bottomed boats, are cloudy; others are on the verge of disappearing altogether as new housing developments and businesses draw down the underlying aquifer.

Through five hundred years of history, the search for water has defined Florida. That is no less true for today's residents as it was for mid-twentieth-century tourists or even Ponce de León himself. Finding the Fountain of Youth is a delightful reminder of journeys past--and a peek at those to come.

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Florida Book Award for Visual Arts, Bronze - 2013

His book is more than a collection of nostalgic Kitsch . . . . it's also a call to look to the state's fragile springs, our real fountains of youth, and care for them before it's too late.-- Orlando Sentinel Florida Flashbacks

A compelling story about the Sunshine State and the waters that flow through and around it-- Tampa Bay Magazine

An insightful history of Florida’s natural springs and their irresistible appeal...a picture book with soul and underlying purpose, illuminating that trouble bubbles beneath the surface of the Sunshine State.-- Real South Magazine

It’s all there in one slim volume: Florida’s spring-fed myths and fables, history and geology, hucksterism and development, vintage photos and posters.-- Florida Weekly

If you are a nature lover, his book will take you places that perhaps you never would have considered going - past or present.-- Florida Environments

An inviting and resourceful read.-- My Weekend (blog)

Lots of Florida fun.-- Authentic Florida (blog)

It encourages our reflection on the natural attractions of the state . . . . a great addition to any Florida bookshelf, beach bag, or coffee table.-- Florida Historical Quarterly

Illustrate that the fictional mythology that has sustained the legend has actually transformed the historical record of our populous peninsula.-- Clearwater Gazette

An enticing blend of history and insightful reflection… [a] visual extravaganza.-- Society for Commerical Archeology Journal

Defines the development of the vintage St. Augustine attraction through postcards, advertisements, photos, and even a pair of Jerry Lewis comic books.-- Forum Magazine

Whether or not you call Florida your home, you will find something magical about the waters rippling through these pages.-- Florida Book Review

Will have much appeal in popular culture.-- Journal of American Culture

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