Ponce de Leon, it seems, was a short fellow. Or so the folks who crafted the statues (or are they statuettes?) of him in Punta Gorda would have us think.
Now we know people centuries ago were short. Just take a look at antique beds and pioneer cottages.
I’d be hitting my head on the lintel every time I ducked through the door! I had that trouble in Nepal, in fact, in every cab, bus, and shop. And I’m only 5’5″. Still.
Ponce de Leon Park is Punta Gorda’s secret beach. It’s where everyone goes to see the sunset, to walk the short boardwalk through the mangroves, and to do a little fishing.
It’s the home of the Peace River Wildlife Center – where they rehab injured birds and mammals – and a frequent field trip destination for the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, for wading out into the harbor to scoop up tiny critters.
Perhaps Ponce waded ashore here? There is a creek, and a point of land. The park founders seemed to have thought so. The park is home to two statues of Ponce De Leon. Maybe three.
We kept looking for more in Punta Gorda and found more statues and even a scene of conquest on the side of Dean’s Restaurant. The Ponces are all adorably sized for a would-be conqueror.
In 1513, the famed conquistador landed along Charlotte Harbor looking, as one did in those days, for gold. Rumor has it he was also looking for the Fountain of Youth.
With a little help, we found it in downtown Punta Gorda. Despite the Florida Department of Health warning on the side of the fountain, there are people who fill jugs of water with it and swear by its curative properties.
It is high in radioactivity, according to the sign. Our taste test tells us it is also quite high in sulfur. We’ve already learned from Pluto water what that can do for you.
While Ponce didn’t take any gold home, when he returned in 1521 to establish a colony on this coast, he suffered a fatal wound at the hands of the Calusa.
They understandably didn’t like the Spanish Armada snooping around their cities in the mangrove islands.
Ponce died far from home in Havana, Cuba, in 1522, from complications related to that injury. And we have these pint-sized Ponces in Punta Gorda to remind us of his footsteps here.