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America Is Aging, but Youth Will Be Served


Perhaps you've heard the early Bob Dylan song Forever Young.

May your heart always be joyful.
May your song always be sung.
May you stay . . . forever young.


Eternal youth is an age-old fantasy, and one that's writ especially large in a curious little tourist spot in St. Augustine, Florida. That's the oldest permanent settlement in what is now the United States. There each year, tourists by the tens of thousands stop in to an archaeological park and garden that holds what is said to be the Fountain of Youth.

At least these visitors find it. Legend has it that, in the early 1500s, Don Juan Ponce de Leon thrashed all over the Florida coast, unsuccessfully searching for a legendary fountain whose waters would convey perpetual youth upon those who sipped it.

In truth, the Spanish explorer - who had claimed these lands for Spain and named them Pascua florida for the Easter celebration of the Feast of the Flowers - was searching, all right, but for gold and natives to capture as slaves.

Ponce de Leon may have missed the little spring in St. Augustine, but for more than a century, others have come to taste its waters and share some laughs about their purported - though wholly unproven - rejuvenating powers.

The site was a farm and citrus orchard until 1901, when an enterprising woman named Diamond Lil' McConnell showed up in St. Augustine from the far side of American territory in frigid Alaska. She bought the site and began charging admission to people who wanted to sip what soon became world-famous waters.

St. Augustine had been the virtual end of civilization on Florida's swampy, mosquito-ridden east coast. Its biggest industry was an invalid's recuperation hospital until oil tycoon Henry Flagler built a luxury hotel there that he named . . . the Ponce de Leon. Others put up similar haughty palaces, and, seemingly overnight, St. Augustine was transformed into a nationally famous winter resort. Soon Flagler financed a railroad through the swamps down to South Florida, where even grander resort cities like Palm Beach would rise. But St. Augustine has remained a place where people come to soak up history and, perhaps, take off a wrinkle or two by sipping the cool waters of the Fountain of Youth.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.


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