Ponce and Philly

There really is a lot to do here in Saint Augustine so let’s try to find a few links to take you to many festivals and tourists attractions we have going on. March really kicks it off with the festivals and concerts, but that does not mean the Florida winter isn’t loaded with fun.
Now you finally flew in via Frontier from Philadelphia to escape the weather. You start noticing that everything seems to be Ponce this Ponce that. Who exactly is this Ponce de Leon character and why is he so revered here in Saint Augustine?
In Philadelphia you have a Columbus street and even a parade for Christopher who in 1492 sailed the ocean blue. We at Abraxi taxi tried to find out some more about the founder of our historic city and would like to share a bit of his life. He definitely was a Renaissance man, but at the detriment to many.
Being from the Northeast and watching the many parades, what in the world is a better spectacle than the Mummers, in Philadelphia? I think having a tribute to Ponce De Leon would be awesome. My first obstacle was that I could not find his true birthday so we looked further into his life and especially his connection with Christopher Columbus, and as it turned out in a weird twist, Philadelphia.
John Meehan from his famous Irish pub on the Bayfront started the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, we from Abraxi Taxi service and airport shuttle, could propose a similar tribute to our Father Mr. Ponce. How about boarding a Frontier flight nonstop to Saint Augustine airport armed with those awesome costumes and banjos? What could be better than doing it with Philadelphia/Mummers style? We could have those marching bands decked out with feathers strumming and strutting along the Matanzas Inlet with cannons firing from the Castillo de San Marcos. But we are getting ahead of ourselves and with all the festivals, movie premiers, museums, concerts where can we find an open date.
So let’s start with our man Ponce.

Legacy (This is from Bio)
“Juan Ponce de León was a product of his time—ambitious, hardworking and ruthless when the occasion called for it. He built a small financial empire that helped advance Spanish colonization in the Caribbean, and he might have gone even further had he been able to avoid political intrigue with the Columbus family.
Many historical sources agree that he treated the native people under his control better than most conquistadors. However, enslavement and disease took a very heavy toll on these populations and he faced several violent uprisings during his tenure as governor.
Ponce de León will forever be associated with the fountain of youth, even though there is no record that he deliberately searched for it. Though he acknowledges the existence of the fable in his memoir, he was by all accounts far too practical a man to waste time on such a fantasy amidst the building of his fortune.”
So the conquistadors were generally religious people that in pursuit of their own greedy goal for gold and treasure ENSLAVED and mistreated the local populations they were trying to conquer. No doubt this was for the glory of god and the salvation of souls and perhaps some actually believed this. But after doing some research on the Spanish Explorers even Christopher Columbus, it really becomes apparent that greed, power and self-aggrandizement were the true reasons. And the natives, as if their fate was not bad enough, suffered from all forms of European diseases the deadliest being small pox.
It does seem that Ponce de Leon came from a nice family that was educated and cultured. He did come to the Americas with Columbus on his 2nd voyage. He was governor of Puerto Rico and was 4 feet 11 inches. And considered tall for his time. We have a statue of a life sized Ponce at the Plaza de la Constitucion that is exactly like the one in Olde San Juan, Puerto Rico. The scholars praise Ponce for his treatment of the slaves, but do not forget Columbus last voyage was back to Spain in chains, for what at the times were crimes against humanity. And it would be later in Ponces life that the sons of Christopher Columbus would thwart his ambitions.
It seems that after Spain expelled the Moors many soldiers of fortune became unemployed but several including Juan Ponce de Leon were able to gain access to the New World. Yes, there was a Muslim problem and under employment over 500 years ago. Yet several thousand boarded ships and set sail from Spain to Hispaniola, what is now modern day Haiti/Dominican Republic. And it really starts here for Ponce and his quest for fame and fortune.
The trip took only 3 weeks and there were slaves to be exploited, souls to be saved and gold to line one’s pockets. Ponce was all in. The priests did expect the natives to be taught reading and writing by the new masters and maybe because of the times this behavior was condoned. The saving of souls no matter the cost. No doubt Juan was an opportunist that had the King’s ear and even some limited support from the Columbus family. This almost sounds Soprano-esque but with little to no oversight he was in defacto the Don of Dons.
Juan did seem impressed with the Indian population fighting skills and like a Don Quixote took notice and defeated the windmills of the new wild west. And to this day is considered the 1st conquistador and hero of Puerto Rico.So along with other soldiers of fortune like Cortez and De Soto they managed to wreak havoc on one civilization, but this laid the foundation for a new world order that continues to this day.
“Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon founded the oldest settlement in Puerto Rico and sought to find the Fountain of Youth. He gained wealth, fame and fortune – often at the brutal expense of native populations.”
Perhaps the lust of more power and more gold drove him to even more expeditions into Florida where he eventually brought a gun to a poison arrow fight which he lost. He was able to make it to Havana Cuba where he died from his wounds. There is much more about him on the History Channel, Wikipedia and Biography but that I think this sums up the man. In his world he would be considered a brave an honorable man, it must have taken courage and a brass set to adventure into the unknown. He discovered Florida on Palm Sunday so I would suggest this should be the day we set aside for the Ponce de Leon/Southern Mummers extravaganza.
Ponce de Leon has one other Philadelphia connection and that is to the esteemed Benjamin Franklin. Ponce is credited with the discovery of the Gulf stream. ”This was the first encounter with the Gulf Stream where it reaches maximum force between the Florida coast and the Bahamas. Because of the powerful boost provided by the current, it would soon become the primary route for eastbound ships leaving the Spanish Indies bound for Europe.” But it was Benjamin Franklin that actually took his genius and performed scientific measurements that actually charted this ocean river naming it the Gulf Stream.
Now all that booty from the New World was heading back to Europe via the Florida straits and the Gulf Stream. Of course we live in paradise but for a few months a year we can experience the Hurricane season. We have great forecasters to warn us when a storm might be brewing but 500 years ago not even Nostradamus was predicting weather. (The fact that he was French and hated the Spanish could be a reason.) So many of those Spanish Galleons sunk, left billions of dollars in gold and silver bullion on the ocean floor. So here comes Saint Augustine’s final connection to Philadelphia in the name of Pat Croce, treasure hunter. You can tour his pirate museum right here in the historic city.
So let’s go over our connections to Philadelphia. Nonstop seasonal flights to Saint Augustine. The airport to the downtown hotels costs about 10 to 15 dollars if you were to use a taxi cab or there are plenty of rental car agencies to choose from. Next we have a relationship between Ponce and that superstar Ben Franklin and the gulf stream. Abraxi Taxi’s next adventure is to petition the U.S Mint as Ponce deserves his portrait on at least a coin. Preferably a gold doubloon 3rd string in this symphony. Is Pat Croce of Allan Iverson and 76er fame, now a pirate expert looking for Ponces booty? Is it too much to ask that the Mummers also honor us? Giving us a quadruple double.
Easter usually comes in April so we really should just pick a date. Early May might be best. The first Saturday. The weather will be ideal. Not too hot, not too cold. Those Mummer arrays would be miserable in the Summertime. This could kick off Player Championship Golf Tournament in Ponte Vedra, an ideal time, and still not interfere with Bill Murray’s Charity Golf Event at his family’s restaurant Caddy shack in late March. Of course the Parade would start at the Fountain of Youth and continue on San Marco. Yes, that is the original Ripley’s Believe It or Not on the left. Up West Castillo past the Best Western Spanish Quarter, ending up at Francis Field.
The Mummers are in of themselves a show. A stage could be set up, we could have more performances and of course an awards ceremony. For those of you that have not been blessed to watch anything as unique and creative as this New Year’s Day tradition you really are missing something special. Think Liberace and those 20s feather strippers on ecstasy, drunk on Blackberry brandy freestyling it down main street America. Some very talented people who work long hours and spend beaucoup de bucks for one show. This is a great opportunity to enjoy our great city of Saint Augustine and what we consider wonderful weather.
At the next city council meeting lets come out and support the Parade for Ponce. We can set up a committee to oversee the implementation and lobby our legislature for support. They were able to plan our 450th birthday party and a huge Mumford and Sons concert very efficiently, why not this event? Some laws like open containers should be relaxed and traffic would have to be controlled. There could be a few designated taxi stands and special shuttles. It would be an awesome tribute to our founding father, a truly sui generis festival, and with help from other Ponce de Leon groupies this could become something special.
Maybe we could invite the King and Queen from Spain! This is a bit about Spanish history and we actually do reenactments of the British Pirate Drake overtaking the Spanish here in Saint Augustine. If you love history especially American history it really all started here in Saint Augustine Florida, and whether or not Ponce discovered the Fountain of Youth or was even the driving factor on him choosing to visit here, the two will always be connected.
So I vote to give tribute to Ponce de Leon with a special celebration here in Saint John’s County Florida and let’s do it with some Yankee flair and show Saint Augustine how we party in Philadelphia. That is another thing we have in common because after all we are a quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem. But do not drink and drive! Call Abraxi Taxi, we get you where you need to Go!

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