Remembering the Old Man of the Mountain

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New Hampshire is a pretty nifty state. Aside from having one of the most gleefully in-your-face mottos, it also was home to the Old Man of the Mountain. The “Old Man” – not a bearded grumbling cave dweller – was a formation of ledges in the White Mountains above Profile Lake in Franconia Notch State Park . In profile, the ledges looked exactly like a man. First recorded in 1805 and discovered by the author of this piece in an overlong road trip up the Eastern Seaboard in 1995, the Old Man collapsed in May of 2003.

If you look closely when you’re tailgaiting a New Hampshire driver, you’ll notice that the Old Man of the Mountain sits smack dab in the middle of a New Hampshire license plate. Check your change jar—you’ll find it on the state quarter, too.

The Old Man of the Mountain inspired America’s great writers and thinkers. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his short story “The Great Stone Face” after seeing the Old Man. Daniel Webster wrote of it, "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 in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men." Yes, the Old Man of the Mountain was kind of a big deal to Webster.

Though it would seem that a natural phenomenon would be built to last, the Old Man’s forehead developed tiny cracks due to natural springtime thawing in the 1920s. It remained held together by chains until 1957, when the New Hampshire State Legislature used elaborate methods of recovery to keep it together. Despite that, the never-ending push of nature and age overtook the Old Man. It fell on May 3, 2003.

There is a memorial for the Old Man of the Mountain at the location it fell and, from experience, Franconia Notch State Park is beautiful and is a must see for all. If you are devastated that you were never be able to see a rock formation that looked like a human, fear not. There are some in Canada, Finland, Guinea, Hong Kong, Israel, Mexico and more! And who knows, you may find one yourself in your backyard. Just make sure it’s not a garden gnome.

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July 14, 2011 - 6:59am
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