Some people consider that the myth of the Fountain of Youth has been around for as long as people have been growing old. There are traces of it in stories of pools or springs that heal sickness and disability or restore life to the dead, in almost all cultures.
However, the legend of the Fountain of Youth is a little different, in fact. Its waters are supposed to have restorative powers which keep us young and immortal or at least, young and healthy until our dying day.
Belief in the Fountain of Youth was widespread among the native people of the Caribbean islands at the time when the Spanish were discovering the American continents. The Arawak people of Cuba and Puerto Rico told the Spanish explorers that the fountain was believed to be in the land of Bimini to the north, approximately where the Bahamas are located. An Arawak tribal chief who had disappeared in search of it and never returned was said to be still enjoying his youth beside the fountain centuries later.
According to modern legend, Juan Ponce de Leon, first Governor of Puerto Rico, heard this tale from the people he had conquered, and after a time, came to believe in it, at least enough to launch an expedition to look for the fountain in the year 1513. All stories that describe this as the purpose of his expedition come from later, after his death, so we do not know if he really was searching for the fountain. But the expedition was real enough, and it was this expedition that discovered Florida.
So although Juan Ponce de Leon never found the Fountain of Youth, and may not even have been looking for it but simply following his adventurous spirit, the Fountain of Youth has now become firmly associated with Florida. In particular, it is linked to St Augustine, where Juan Ponce de Leon landed and became one of the first Europeans to set foot on the mainland of what is now the USA.
In St Augustine there is now a Fountain Of Youth Archeological Park which celebrates the city’s Spanish roots and the local history of the Timucua native American people of northern Florida. The park contains a fountain but there are no claims that it is the Fountain of Youth. It would be an amazing coincidence if Ponce had discovered the fountain right there where he landed. Still, many visitors do go ahead and drink the water, and who knows, maybe it does them some good!
After landing in St Augustine Ponce continued to explore the mainland, adding fuel to the theory that he was searching for something. He fought the native people in his explorations. His last battle was near what is now Port Charlotte, very close to Warm Mineral Springs. It is possible that he had gotten information from Timucuan prisoners about natural water sources and was trying to reach the spring in the hope that that it might be the mythical fountain.
Unfortunately, even if he had made it, it seems that he would have been disappointed. Warm Mineral Springs is an ancient artesian water source that has been used for at least 10 millennia, but it is not the Fountain of Youth. Remains of a human skeleton from 10,000 years ago were found near the bottom of the spring. That person was obviously not restored to life by the spring, and there is no evidence that Warm Mineral Springs possesses any magical powers.
In 2006 the legend was revived and shifted back to the Bahamas when the magician David Copperfield bought a cluster of small islands and claimed to have discovered a fountain with restorative powers on one of them. Because of who he is, this seems most likely to be the first step in a large scale illusion. But who knows … maybe America’s top magician really has discovered the Fountain of Youth.