The first day of autumn. The official end of summer and the official beginning of crisp nights, football, leaves changing colors, and everything pumpkin. It also, sadly, marks the last few weeks of my Interpretive Ranger season. So I wanted to focus my final blog around something else that has changed in the park. It took many years to be created, countless man hours to try and hold it up as long as possible, and dreams to bring it back to life. I am talking, of course, about the Old Man of the Mountain.
Back in 1805, surveyors working around Profile Lake on the first road that ran through Franconia Notch State Park noticed a man’s profile on the edge of Cannon Cliff. As word spread of the natural profile of an old man, the area started becoming a summer destination for wealthy New Englanders, and several large hotels were built in the area. This included the Profile House, which used to stand in the area of the Tram Building and had around 800 rooms. As the Old Man watched tourists come and go, he became more and more famous.
But as time wore on, it became clear that the Old Man was slowly crumbling away. In 1916, the Profile House’s owners hired Edward Geddes to install the first rods and turnbuckles on the Old Man because his forehead was loose. That facelift for the Old Man worked, but nothing lasts forever… In 1955, the 150th anniversary of the Old Man of the Mountain discovery was celebrated which included a visit from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Three years after the celebration, a large crew spent most of their summer continuing to stabilize the rocks that made up the Old Man. Since then, countless man hours were spent keeping the Old Man of the Mountain intact. Niels Nielsen, and later his son David, were the official caretakers of the Old Man. They spent their summers working on the Old Man, putting sealant on the rocks to avoid as much water damage as possible and taking care of the giant metal cables that were installed to hold him up.
But all of this work, all of this love for New Hampshire’s official symbol, came collapsing down one spring night. On May 3, 2003, the report went out that the Old Man of the Mountain had fallen. It was a somber day for New Hampshire. Their oldest resident, the state emblem, had passed in his sleep.
But our story of the Old Man of the Mountain does not end there.
He would live again, but in a different form. After his collapse, a new non-profit organization, the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy, stepped forward to create a privately-funded monument for the beloved state symbol. In 2011, with the help of sculptors Ron Magers and Shelly Bradberry, the Fund opened the Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza at Profile Lake, where you can see the Old Man back “on the mountain”.
In order to see the Old Man once again, or for the first time, walk down to Profile Lake. Once you enter the Plaza, you will see a few interpretive signs and some strange-looking rods. Go over to them and you will see engraved stones on the ground labeled with different heights. Stand on the stone closest to your height and look up at the pole. You should be able to see the Old Man back on the side of Cannon Mountain! Of course, it is not the original, which was most likely formed when the glaciers receded from the area around 12,000 years ago, but it is still an amazing sight and gives you a sense of what millions of people observed from this very spot for nearly two hundred years.
Much like the trees changing from green to yellow or orange or red, the Old Man has changed too. Instead of being made out of stone, he is now made out of steel. Instead of being on the side of Cannon Mountain, he is now beneath it. Instead of being able to see the vast amounts of visitors high in the sky, he now greets guests in-person at the Plaza. Though he may be gone, the sense of wonder and awe that he inspired in so many people still lives on at Profile Plaza.
My few months here have been wonderful. I have met so many great park guests and enthusiastic staff. Every day, the mountains gave me a sense of awe, with their towering peaks and varying shades of green. Seeing how they morphed in different weather conditions made me wonder that their seemingly immovable presence. I am truly going to miss this place, and all the majesty it holds.
–Vicky Benko, Interpretive Ranger at Franconia Notch State Park