If you live in New Hampshire you are likely familiar with The Old Man Of The Mountain. Even if you are not a NH resident, chances are you have heard of our iconic Old Man of the Mountain. I can remember all of my trips north included either stopping to stretch our legs and take a look at the Old Man or at least viewing with amazement out the car window at the unique rock structure. The view never got old, and even if someone was sleeping in the car you were woken to look out the car window as we drove by.
The Old Man Of The Mountain is one of the highest googled locations in New Hampshire and with good reason. If you had never seen this place before you wanted to visit. If you had seen it in the past you wanted to know everything that happened when The Old Man Of The Mountain fell.
Who Is The Old Man Of The Mountain
The Old Man Of The Mountain was actually a series of 5 granite cliff ledges that were 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide. The ledges were created during the ice age which not only left these amazing ledges but actually carved out Franconia Notch itself.
The Old Man Of The Mountain has also been called “The Profile”, and “The Great Stone Face.” Since the finding of this nature-made marvel New Hampshire had embraced it as part of New Hampshire, making it the State emblem, putting it on the State license plates, and the State quarter.
New Hampshire native Daniel Webster sums up how New Hampshire feels about the Old Man Of The Mountain. “Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the Mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.”
The History Of The Old Man Of The Mountain
The first recording we have of the Old Man Of The Mountain was in 1805 by some road surveyors Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks. They noticed that the jagged rocks looked to form a face but only from the North side and from afar. If you are to get close to the formation you lose the full picture of a man’s face. It is believed that the formation would have started back some 12,000 years ago when water inside cracks in the granite bedrock froze and thawed following the glacier retreat.
The mountain figure very quickly became a tourist attraction even back in the 1800’s. A well known author, Hawthorne was believed to have written his short story “The Great Stone Face” in 1850 about The Old Man Of The Mountain.
In Hawthorne’s book he states “If the spectator approached too near, he lost the outline of the gigantic visager, and could discern only a heap of ponderous and gigantic rocks…Retracing his steps, however, the human face, with all its original divinity intact, did they appear.”
Well it is not known the exact age The Old Man Of The Mountain was. We can say he was almost 200 years old from the time of the first documented sighting in 1805 to his fall in 2003.
Care Taking For The Old Man Of The Mountain
In 1920 the first efforts to help protect The Old Man from falling down. A crack was found in the Old Man’s forehead and it was clearly noticeable. Safety chains and iron ties were used to help keep the crack from separating.
In 1957 an appropriation of $25,000 was passed by the New Hampshire legislature to allow the necessary repairs to maintain The Old Man Of The Mountain from natural deterioration. Quick drying cement and steel rods were used to fill in the cracks and were maintained every summer by volunteers.
In 1965 a caretaker was appointed to make sure the necessary maintenance was done for the Old Man each year. Niels Nielsen took care of the Old Man Of The Mountain, spraying bleach on the rock face helping to keep moss growth on the rocks.
He checked the cracks, measuring them and making any necessary repairs as he found them. Each year the chains, iron ties, and turbines were painted to prevent rust. Niels even used a garden hoe to clean out the Old Man’s ear. This was a labor of love for Niels. He was enchanted by the rock formation and frequently talked to others about his love for the Great Stone Face saying, “I don’t believe anyone can be up there and not feel the presence of God.” Niels was also asked many times what would happen if The Old Man ever fell? “The Lord put him here, and the Lord will take him down,” Niels said.
In 1991 Mr. Nielsen retired and passed the job onto his son, David. David and his wife Deborah continued to maintain The Old Man Of The Mountain until his collapse in 2003. David said that it was hard to lose the Old Man Of The Mountain as he was a part of their family for decades. David even buried some of his dad’s ashes in one of The Old Man’s eyes. The Nielsen family said they were not sure if they gave the Old Man an extra 10 years or more but they were happy to give him life.
The Collapse Of The Old Man Of The Mountain
Friday May 2, 2003 was the day New Hampshire lost its iconic Old Man. The morning was foggy and the Old Man’s face was hidden within that fog but as it cleared the park rangers for the Flume suddenly noticed that the face was missing. A fury of calls were made to the park service, David the caretaker, and the Governor. For so many the loss was personal, people felt like they had lost a family member or a guardian angel.
After some inspection it appeared that The Old Man Of The Mountain fell shortly after midnight, some campers in the area reported hearing loud crashing noises but had no idea what it was until morning when they also noticed that the Old Man was gone. It was reported that The Great Stone Face just couldn’t hold on anymore and the freezing and thawing of the cracks finally took their toll.
News of the collapse spread throughout New England and people came in flocks to see the missing Man. Many came to mourn, pay their respects, and even left tokens at profile lake.
Honoring The Old Man Of The Mountain
The local community was saddened by the loss of their beloved Old Man but also their thoughts were on the thousands and thousands of tourists that come to the White Mountains to see The Great Stone Face hanging from the top of Cannon Mountain.
Debate On How To Replace The Old Man Of The Mountain
Thoughts of how to engineer another Old Man Of The Mountain were discussed but ultimately the decision to recreate The Old Man Of The Mountain was passed over. A big part of the majestic rock face was that it was naturally made. He was ultimately engineered from mother nature and the thought of a man made Old Man just didn’t sit right with New Hampshire.
The Old Man Of The Mountain Legacy Fund Was Created
Several years went by with lots of talks and ideas amongst The Old Man Of The Mountain Legacy Fund and finally one of the 40 plus ideas submitted was chosen to be built. The memorial spot would be called Profiler Plaza, which is a park that is in front of Profile Lake.
Profiler Plaza Honors The Memory of The Old Man of The Mountain
The concept of the plaza was simple but very creative. The park is built of paving stones, some with names of families, others with names of donors for the memorial, and several pavers with footprints and heights listed on them. These pavers are used for visitors to stand on and look in the sight line from that paver up to the spot The Old Man sat. Within that sight line are several precisely sculpted and perfectly located steel shapes that allow you to view the mountain top with a view of The Old Man Of The Mountain! It is as if he never fell!
Profiler Plaza was most recently finished off with two small museum displays, one at the plaza and another one at Cannon Mountain. These museums help to educate the public about the amazing Old Man Of The Mountain’s legacy.
The Old Man Of The Mountain Lives On
Over the years, millions of tourists have visited The Old Man Of The Mountain and thanks to the brilliant idea of two artists The Old Man will live on for hundreds of years to come. The creative thinking and hard work, allows New England’s legacy to have lasting durability through metal and stone.
Final Thoughts on the Old Man of The Mountain
The Old Man Of The Mountain represents strength, solidarity, and pride. As a child, I always loved driving through the Notch to see a glimpse of the iconic Old Man nestled on his mountain perch.
He is the State symbol known and loved by so many. If you have not had the opportunity to view the new version of The Old Man Of The Mountain you should plan a trip. Although the original masterpiece mother nature gave to us over a century ago was amazing and truly a gift to our State, the new monument will preserve the history and life of The Old Man Of The Mountain.
Other guides to investigate:
Did you know there is an Old Woman of The Mountain in NH? Learn more here.