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Cities vie for Ponce de Leon title

Dec. 31, 2012 at 4:30 PM   |   Comments

MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Two Florida cities are battling for the title of conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon's 16th century landing spot ahead of the event's 500th anniversary.

Organizers of festivities in St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach, cities 144 miles apart that both bear state signs declaring them "possible" landing spots for Juan Ponce de Leon when he first visited and named "La Florida" April 3, 1513, are claiming evidence for their city's claim to being the conquistador's landing spot, The Miami Herald reported Monday.

Organizers of 500th anniversary celebrations in St. Augustine, which was founded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565 and holds the title of North America's oldest continuously inhabited city, is planning "Viva 500" celebrations all year long, including a visit from Santiago Baeza Benavides, the mayor of Santervas, de Leon's Spanish hometown.

St. Augustine has long claimed de Leon landed at a beach about 15 miles north of the city.

However, organizers of rival celebrations in Melbourne Beach say evidence suggests de Leon made his landing near their city.

Douglas Peck, 94, a retired Air Force engineer and history buff, attempted in 1990 to retrace de Leon's sailing path from Puerto Rico to Florida.

"From my reconstructed track I found that Ponce de Leon's anchorage and landing after discovering Florida and the North American continent were about 28 degrees north latitude and 89 degrees, 29 minutes west longitude, which is below Cape Canaveral and a short distance south of Melbourne Beach. I do not say that this is the exact spot, but I place the accuracy within five to eight nautical miles either side of this fix," he wrote in the Florida Historical Quarterly.

Michael Francis, a Spanish-Florida scholar in St. Petersburg, said he is not convinced by either city's claims.

"Honestly," Francis said, "why don't we just say Ponce landed somewhere between St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach? Why don't we celebrate all over Florida? I don't understand the competition."

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