National Geographic : 1966 Feb
When I visited the city, I found that it was, in a commercial sort of way, very much aware of its antiquity. As I drove in, a maze of ad vertisements urged me not to miss the Old Jail ("authentic, educational"), the Old Sugar Mill, the Museum of Yesterday's Toys, and the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, to mention just a few. During my stay my shirts were washed with modern efficiency by the Ancient City Laundry & Dry Cleaners, and on the radio a singing commercial advertised "the Oldest Bank in the Oldest City." In the middle of all this decrepitude it is amusing to find, of all things, the Fountain of Youth, where-who can prove otherwise? Juan Ponce de Le6n may have paused on his exploration of Florida in 1513, more than half a century before the founding of St. Augustine. Here any visitor can get a lecture tour and a paper cup of spring water (from a well, not a fountain) for a mere $1.00. Long ago there was a rival Fountain of Youth on the other side of town, but it closed down for lack of business. All this is a surface phenomenon, mainly aimed at prying a dollar or two out of the one-day tourist. And who can criticize that? Well, I can. Garish billboards make the ap 200 proach to St. Augustine ugly, and, I suspect, encourage many travelers to speed on rather than to stop. And that is a sad thing, for St. Augustine, if you stay awhile, will tell you its own story, one of the most important and dramatic in the history of the New World. I have seen no other place in the United States where history is so visible and touchable. There are several ways to get a quick sur vey of the city and a capsule of its history. One is to visit the Oldest House, a handsome restored Spanish dwelling maintained as a museum by the local historical society. Anoth- er is to take a short tour-by boat, by small rubber-tired train, or by horse and carriage each with a guide who gives you his own story of St. Augustine. Traditionally, the most lurid accounts are given by the carriage drivers, mostly elderly Negroes in derby or top hat. Their red and-yellow buggies sparkle in the sun; their horses are tasseled. I took one of these. The driver said his name was Major; he had been driving a carriage since 1910. No, he had never been in any army-Major was his Christian name. His mare was named Jeze bel. He flicked her reins, and off we went.