Ponce might not have been even the first European to touch Florida, Gannon continued. The crews of Spanish slaving ships might have come ashore on previous occasions to kidnap natives for the gold mines of the Indies.
As for the Fountain of Youth, more than likely a myth.
After about 15 minutes, Gannon got around to the nitty gritty.
He began talking about that amateur historian, Douglas Peck and his attempt to duplicate Ponce’s voyage by sailing from Puerto Rico to Florida.
"He anchored..." Gannon said of Peck. "Where was he?
From the audience came a gasp.
"That resailing,’’ Gannon continued, "represents the latest and best evidentiary statement we have on the Juan Ponce landing.’’
A careful scholar, Gannon offered a qualifier. He couldn’t guarantee that Melbourne Beach is the exact place, of course. But Gannon thought Peck had added something worthy to the discussion.
In Melbourne Beach, Samuel Lopez ignores the qualifying words.
"It was like an atom bomb going off,’’ he says about the moment Gannon said "Melbourne Beach’’ to the pro-St. Augustine audience. Lopez hands out video recordings of Gannon’s speech. It’s on his website.
"St. Augustine can no longer cover up its lies.’’
Has it changed anything?
In St. Augustine, Melbourne Beach seldom comes up in polite conversation. "St. Augustine is the only place in the continental U.S. for experiencing authentic 16th century colonial Spanish heritage," says Barbara Golden, communications manager for St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.
In November, National Geographic’s Traveler Magazine included St. Augustine on its prestigious list of 20 "Must See Places" in the world for 2013. It’s a dream come true for publicists.
In St. Petersburg, Spanish-Florida scholar Michael Francis remains unconvinced about St. Augustine’s claims — and about Peck’s Melbourne Beach contentions. Francis spends summers in Spain digging through dusty papers looking at 16th-century records. One day he hopes to uncover Ponce’s lost log and come up with something better.
"Honestly,’’ Francis says, "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.’’
In Melbourne Beach, Samuel Lopez’s plans grow more ambitious by the week. He will portray Ponce in a re-enactment. The mayor of Ponce’s hometown in Northern Spain, Lopez says, will be busy on April 3. He may be visiting St. Augustine, but he also promises a trip to Melbourne Beach.
Douglas Peck, 94 years old, ill, hard of hearing and disappointed that some mainstream historians dismiss his work as inconclusive, plans to be in Melbourne Beach.
Air Force jets will fly over the beach. Navy ships will fire a 21-gun salute.
There will be a gala dinner and dance, of course, and a celebratory mass at Immaculate Conception.
Lopez has sent an invitation to the man he prays will take a seat in a nearby church pew, His Majesty Juan Carlos I of Spain.
He awaits the RSVP.