HATTER FUN FACTS: Who is the ‘Bathing Beauty’ in the De Leon Springs State Park Statue?

This photograph of the statue was taken in March 1954.

Note: Hatter Fun Facts is a ongoing series that shares curiosities about Stetson to the Stetson Community with the help of our archivist, Elizabeth Maycumber.

A famous image welcomed tourists to the De Leon Springs State Park during the 1950s, when it first opened to the public as “Ponce De Leon Springs” in 1953.

This image was on the back of a postcard Talton Johnston donated to the Stetson University Archives.

This image was a statue of Juan Ponce de Leon — the conquistador who led the first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513 — and a “Bathing Beauty.”

But who was the woman who inspired the image of the Bathing Beauty?

The answer can be found within the Stetson Community, as the Bathing Beauty was molded after Marilyn Talton Johnston — a native of DeLand — who graduated from Stetson as part of the Class of 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a minor in Art.

Marilyn Talton Johnston ’53

“It was exciting,” she said. “I had people tell me how beautiful I was.”

During that same year, according to a The Stetson Reporter article, Talton Johnston traveled south during her vacation and, “as Miss De Leon Springs she visited cities along the East Coast publicizing the opening of the Springs.”

A couple of years prior, in 1951, Talton Johnston, alongside Clarence Hughes, received “the top honors in the Mr. and Miss Stetson contests,” according to another article from The Stetson Reporter. She also was mentioned in a 1952 article about the Hatter Beauty Contest.

During her years at Stetson, Talton Johnston was part of the Pi Beta Phi social sorority and the Theta Alpha Phi National Dramatics Fraternity. After graduation, she worked as a stewardess for National Airlines for about a year and a half, prior to her nuptials with Lory Maurice Johnston in 1955. It was around that same time when she was chosen to be Miss DeLand and travel all the way to Boston.

De Leon Springs and Stetson

Talton Johnston became Miss De Leon Springs during a beauty contest held at the state park.

“They used to have a big crowd there,” she said. “It was fun.”

This photograph was taken during a beauty pageant held by the pool at De Leon Springs State Park back in the 1950s.

Also, according to the Stetson University Archives, Stetson students regularly visited De Leon Springs for either recreation or swimming lessons.

Students pose in their bathing suits in front of water, likely Ponce de Leon Springs. The image dates back to 1939.
Assistant Professor Betty Autney instructs students in swimming at Ponce de Leon Springs. The image dates back to the 1940s or 1950s.

Watch a video of Johnston from 2022 — who currently lives in Fort Lauderdale — where she speaks about the things she loved, and loves, most about Stetson and why the university holds such a special place in her heart.