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New Exhibit Shows Florida History Through Spanish Explorers' Eyes

Jessica Palombo

An exhibit showing early Florida through the eyes of Spanish explorers opened this week at Tallahassee’s Museum of Florida History. The state partnered with the Spanish government on the exhibit as part of its Viva Florida 500 celebration.

History museum spokesman Gary Pettit guided Florida Public Radio through the “Imagining la Florida” exhibit.

“The first thing you walk into is the replica Spanish galleon," he said. “You can hear the floor creak underneath you. And you look, and when you look out the windows, that’s actually images from a painting of Seville, Spain. So you look out the windows of the galleon, and you’re in Spain getting ready for the voyage to the new world.”

The next section highlights the diverse people who lived in Florida before Juan Ponce de Leon gave it that name in 1513. A map has blue dots marking where archeologists have found evidence of human activity predating the Spanish expeditions. The blue covers basically the entire state.

“And that was one of the things the exhibit sought to do was delve a little bit deeper into that early history of Florida and specifically debunk some of the myths, specifically about the Fountain of Youth, but also about what was here, what people were here when Ponce de Leon landed," Pettit said.

Museum Director Jeana Brunson says the Native American perspective is represented more fully elsewhere in the museum.

“We have an exhibit that shows even more about these cultures and how they were similar and how they were different," she said, "So it’s great to have this exhibit and our permanent collection here at the same time.”

According to the Spanish exhibit, the story of Ponce de Leon coming to Florida looking for the Fountain of Youth is nothing but a fairytale. But that doesn’t keep the curator from offering an interactive fountain experience. Visitors can wade through a video of a fountain projected on the floor, and the water ripples and splashes without getting you wet.

Pettit said, “So once you come out, you then get to see its effects."

Our reporter stood in front of a mirror to see if she looked younger. But a message popped up telling her she's already too young.

“It’s kind of like a Magic 8 Ball in a mirror," she said.

“Yes. It has a number of those little sayings," Pettit said. "It will take your picture and try to morph you into a younger version and give you some sort of statement at the end of it."

Visitors can try the Fountain of Youth for themselves at the Museum of Florida History until Feb. 23, 2014.  That’s when the “Imagining la Florida” exhibit takes its final voyage back to Spain.