I enjoy the names given to objects folks collect: Disney fans gather Disneyana; aficionados of old Florida seek Floridiana. A few years ago, Orlando graphic designer Rick Kilby found himself on a search for "Poncebilia"—images of Ponce de León, the Spanish explorer who gave Florida its name 500 years ago.
He found pop-culture Ponces in an amazing variety of sources, from cereal boxes to citrus ads, and along the way found something equally surprising.
Although the fountain of youth never existed (and Ponce was never looking for it), it proved such a compelling myth that it took on a life of its own in Florida—the land of magical, life-giving waters, the land of health-bestowing sunshine and citrus fruit.
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He'll tell the story of his quest Saturday, June 8, at the Orlando Public Library.
From collector to author
In a sense, Kilby found Florida's fountain of youth. And he became not just a collector of Florida's popular history but an author detailing it. The University Press of Florida recently published his book "Finding the Fountain of Youth: Ponce de León and the Florida's Magical Waters," and a related article appeared in "Reflections," the quarterly of the Historical Society of Central Florida.
He's a friend and colleague, so I'm far from impartial about his achievement. But I'm also not alone in my appreciation. "Just seeing the nostalgic advertisements, postcards, and photos" in Kilby's volume "is enough to make readers reclaim their own youth," Floridiana expert Tim Hollis quips on the book's cover.
Magic, and trouble, in the water
The journey that led to the book began a few years ago when Rick and his wife, Julie, visited St. Augustine's Fountain of Youth attraction. He soon learned it was only one of several spots in Florida that claimed to have been the "true" fountain of youth.
Kilby says he also became much more aware of how Florida's real magical waters are in trouble. Gazing at green-algae goo coating the bottom at Wekiva Springs, for example, "had a profound effect on me," he recalls.
The result is that his book is more than a collection of nostalgic kitsch, as much fun as that is; 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.
To learn more
"Finding the Fountain of Youth," Rick Kilby's image-rich June 8 program, is part of the Second Saturday series at the Orlando Public Library, 101 E. Central Blvd. It's at 2 p.m. in the Albertson Room and is presented by the Friends of the Library.
An exhibit based on the book is also at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, in conjunction with "Springs Eternal," a visual celebration of Florida's springs by photographer John Moran (go to flmnh.ufl.edu and click on "exhibits").
You can also find Rick through his blog at studiohourglass.blogspot.com and also on his "Old Florida" page on Facebook.
What's going on
The UCF Public History Center in Sanford has lined up three Saturday summer workshops on "Capturing, Writing, and Displaying Your Family History." On June 15, the focus is oral history; on July 20, it's writing; and on August 17, it's scrapbooking, both traditional and digital. (The June program is from 9 to 11 a.m.; July and August times are 10 a.m. to noon.)
The cost for each workshop is $25. Details: Write firstname.lastname@example.org, call 407-823-3817, or go to publichistorycenter.cah.ucf.edu. The center is in the former Student Museum at 301 W. 7th St. in Sanford.
Setting the record straight
A recent Flashback about the "Historic Orlando" Facebook mentioned a picture of a gas station on Orange Avenue in the 1930s and incorrectly described the site as Orange at Robinson Street, "later known for the streamlined building that once housed Rutland's menswear store." The location was Orange at Washington Street. It was correct on Historic Orlando; the flub is all mine.
Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at email@example.com or by good old-fashioned letter at the Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.