For those traveling through New Hampshire, one thing is abundantly clear, they love their old man. The face of this iconic figure can be found on almost everything from the state quarter, license plates, tea cups, road signs, and other tchotchkes. What may not be immediately clear is that the Old Man is no longer occupying the mountain. For those unfamiliar with the Old Man of the Mountain, let’s travel back in time.
The Old Man of the Mountain was first discovered in 1805 by surveyors working in Franconia Notch. Word quickly spread about the great stone face and soon, thousands of visitors were flocking to Franconia Notch to catch a glimpse.
Time Stops for No Man (including those made of stone)
No one knows how long the Old Man of the Mountain resided on Cannon Mountain; however, we know he must have begun his reign after the last glaciers retreated 12,000 years ago. If he had been present when the glaciers passed through, he would not have had such a pretty face. In 1872, the Appalachian Mountain Club noticed that the Old Man’s forehead had begun to slip. After thousands of years on Cannon Mountain, the Old Man was beginning to show the effects of erosion (water repeatedly freezing and thawing). Despite numerous efforts made by caretakers, including: turnbuckles, fiberglass sluiceways, epoxy seals, and yearly inspections, the Old Man could not be held up forever.
On May 3, 2003, the Old Man of the Mountain took a “chin dive”. Definitely less catchy then a “nose dive” but historically more accurate. The block of granite that made up the Old Man’s “chin” pitched forward and fell off the mountainside. Without his center of gravity, the rest of the Old Man’s face quickly followed suit. The fall of the Old Man was featured on the front of numerous newspapers and extensively covered by news agencies.
Now that you know about the Old Man’s history, let’s talk about his presence (or lack thereof). Those visiting Franconia Notch State Park can still pay their respects and view the Old Man of the Mountain thanks to the Old Man of the Mountain Memorial and Museum, located off of exit 34B. Visitors can view the Old Man’s face back on Cannon Mountain with the help of steel profiles.
The Old Man of the Mountain is definitely symbolic of Franconia Notch and the state of New Hampshire, but I think we have to remember that we are more than a stone face. New Hampshire is home to 93 state parks, the tallest peak in the Northeast (Mt. Washington), an abundance of wildlife, diverse habitats, and so much more. I encourage people to remember the Old Man and his past, just make sure you also look forward to the future as he did.
For those interested in stone faces, you are in luck! Franconia Notch State Park is home to several others besides the Old Man.
The Watcher or Old Woman of the Mountain on Eagle Cliffs