OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN
Portsmouth, NH Sunday, May 4, 2003
Daniel Webster once said:
"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."
The Old Man Of The Mountain
Editor's Note: 5/03/03
The Old Man of the Mountain fell from the mountain today.
High above the Franconia Notch gateway to northern New Hampshire there is an old man. He has been described as a relentless tyrant, a fantastic freak, and a learned philosopher, feeble and weak about the mouth and of rarest beauty, stern and solemn, one of the most remarkable wonders of the mountain world.
Daniel Webster once said, ..."Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoe makers 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." Thus it happens that New Hampshire has her Profile, "The Old Man of the Mountain," sublimely outlined against the western sky; a sign unique, distinctive, and inspirational as to the kind of men the sons of the Granite State should be. **
The Old Man of the Mountain has several names including "The Profile", "The Great Stone Face", "The Old Man," and "The Old Man of the Mountains".
The Profile is composed of Conway red granite and is an illusion formed by five ledges, that when lined up correctly give the appearance of an old man with an easterly gaze, clearly distinct and visible from only a very small space near Profile Lake. When viewed from other locations in Franconia Notch, the same five ledges have a very rough and ragged appearance, and there is no suggestion of The Profile.*
Geological opinion is that The Profile on Profile Mountain is supposed to have been brought forth partly as the result of the melting and slipping away action of the ice sheet that covered the Franconia Mountains at the end of the glacial period, and partly by the action of the frost and ice in crevices, forcing off, and moving about certain rocks and ledges into profile forming positions. It is supposed that the Old Man of the Mountain was completed during the latter part of the post glacial period, from 2,000 to 10,000 years ago.**
The Old Man is formed on a shoulder of Profile Mountain, which juts out abruptly into space, some 1200 feet above Profile Lake. It is composed of five layers of granite ledge, one exactly above the other, the lateral distance being 25 feet. Of these five layers one forms the chin, another the upper lip, a third the nose and two layers make up the forehead. The Old Man has been measured as being forty feet and five inches in height. It is all together, just as it appears to be when viewed from the road or lake below.*
The Old Man of the Mountain may be viewed from Interstate 93, northbound, in Franconia State Park from several cutout parking areas. The area is well marked and you will have no trouble locating the viewing areas. Southbound on Interstate 93, take Exit 2 into the Canon Mt Tramway parking lot and follow the signs for the "Old Man viewing area".
Information: Franconia State Park - 603-823-5563
'Old Man' Caretaker: David Neilsen - 603-323-9309
* "The Old Man's Reader" - History & Legends of Franconia Notch - Mudge - 1995
**"The Profile" - A brief story - Rev Guy Roberts - 1920
State mourns loss of Old Man
By Richard Fabrizio
The Old Man is gone.
The loss of the Old Man of the Mountain will be borne by living and still unborn Granite Staters and people around the world for years to come. The venerable granite symbol of New Hampshire slid unseen down a mountain and into the past sometime Friday or early Saturday morning.
A state park trails crew reported around 7:30 Saturday morning the 40-foot tall stony face was gone from the side of Profile Mountain in Franconia Notch. The Old Man was covered by clouds Thursday and Friday, so no one knows when it actually fell.
The image that only nature could have crafted became a symbol of the state as countless people viewed the remarkable monument. The Old Man became a rite of passage for New Hampshire residents and a tourist attraction that become synonymous with the state and its slogan, "Live Free or Die." The profile was about 1,200 feet above Interstate 93, about 65 miles north of Concord.
The cause is believed to be a result of freezing and thawing of the past winter combined with heavy spring rains. Ultimately, the hands of the time pulled down the man.
A handful of cables and epoxy on the rugged mountainside showed where the face once gazed eastward. Scrapes and shattered ledge along the slope showed the path of the fall. Park staff reported no fallen parts of the face were distinguishable from other boulders on the slope.
The loss drew feelings of loss from around the state.
Portsmouth’s Raimond Bowles, a native of Franconia, struggled to comprehend the loss of an icon he knew since he was a small boy growing up in the tiny mountain town. The 79-year-old former state legislature said he fought back tears when he learned of the Old Man’s demise on Saturday morning.
"It’s like the world has fallen down around my shoulders," Bowles said. "I grew up at the foot of it and stood atop its brow as a hiker. If I thought there was anything in the world that was stable and permanent it was the Old Man of the Mountain."
For nearly a century, the state used cables and epoxy in a doomed attempt to keep the face from succumbing to erosion. Most people knew its collapse was inevitable, but few thought it would happen in their lifetime.
Niels Nielsen, a state highway worker who died in 2001, was the profile’s official caretaker from 1960 until a few years ago, when he passed the job on to his son, David Nielsen.
Niels told an interviewer in 1999 he thought the Old Man would outlive him by many years.
"My gut feeling is that any baby that’s born on this date, today, will not see the Old Man come down," he said.
Jim Shibles, 45, of Lebanon, last year researched, produced and published a half-hour CD-ROM about the Old Man. It included its history and offered thoughts on it future. The CD has the Old Man himself telling of his concern of the effects of the forces of gravity on his face. The CD was distributed to schools and sold to tourists and residents.
"It was very shocking to learn this news this morning," Shibles said. "It is quite shocking in my lifetime to find out that he’s gone."
Gov. Craig Benson flew by helicopter to access the damage on Saturday. He called the Old Man New Hampshire’s cherished and ultimate symbol of those who would "Live Free or Die."
"For 10,000 years, the Old Man of the Mountain had withstood the test of time," Benson said. "Overnight New Hampshire changed. ... And while that symbol may have fallen, that spirit still remains."
The governor is working with state officials on the prospect of restoration and Benson immediately formed a task force to examine the possibility of resurrecting the symbol. Gov. Benson said the state would open an "Old Man of the Mountain Revitalization Fund" for those who wish to donate to the fund. Information is available at www.nh.gov./governor.
"I am committed to doing everything possible to restore this important monument to our Granite State," Benson said.
Seacoast residents reacted to the news as if it were a joke and their faces suggested they were awaiting a punch line.
"You’re kidding," said Gregg Schweitzer, 29, an avid hiker in the area around the Old Man.
Many talked about when they first visited the site and said they were sad.
Maureen McGill, 35, of Newmarket, first saw the Old Man when she was 19 after moving to the state. She recalled her sister and brother-in-law telling her about it and how she doubted a rock formation could actually resemble a face.
The first thing McGill did after hearing the news was call her family.
"It’s awful," she said. "I called my sister and she said ‘Oh my god.’ My brother-in-law was so sad. He just kept saying ‘I can’t believe he’s gone.’"
Peter Hamelin, president of the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, spent a year working in Franconia Notch for a ski marketing association and spent many hours at Cannon Mountain looking up at the Old Man. Hamelin said Granite Staters should now think about what the Old Man meant to New Hampshire.
"It meant something, that we belong to the land," he said. "We don’t own the land, the land owns us. That’s the spirit and the Old Man represented that and how we took care of our natural resources."
Long has this strange and uniquely geological formation fascinated women, men and children.
Daniel Webster, the 19th century New Hampshire statesman, wrote of it, saying: "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."
The Old Man of the Mountain is on hundreds of state documents and tourism promotional items. The likeness was depicted on the special series of U.S. quarters minted in 2000.
Bowles mother, Ella Shannon Bowles, wrote "Let Me Show You New Hampshire" in 1938. Her work became a centerpiece of recent promotional efforts by the state’s office of travel and tourism. The Old Man graced the book’s cover.
"I was just trying to think of what she would think if she were alive," Bowles said, "but I don’t think she could conjure up the right words at this time as I can’t either."
Rep. Jeb Bradley was deeply saddened to learn the Old Man of the Mountain had fallen. The Old Man represented the state’s spirit of flinty independence and live free or die nature, Bradley said.
"It was both humbling and exhilarating to have twice climbed the Cannon cliffs, once being just a few feet from the Old Man’s chin," Bradley said.
Bowles also talked of humility when grappling with the meaning of the loss.
"When something as permanent as the Old Man falls down and disappears, it makes you think of the impermanency of the way human beings do things," he said. "Without being blasphemous, God only knows what can happen next."
Fascination with the Old Man’s departure will likely fuel interest as another year of tourism season begins anew. Beyond that, the impact is truly unknown.
Dick Hamilton, president of the tourism group, White Mountain Attractions, said he had lost his number one attraction. Hamilton has commuted through the notch every day for the last 33 years.
"I say goodnight to him every night when I go by," he said. On Friday night, he couldn’t see the profile because of the clouds. "I went by and said, ‘Good night, boss, wherever you are."’
Those wishing to contribute to restoration efforts, can send contributions to: Old Man of the Mountain Revitalization Fund, c/o Governor’s Office, State House, Concord, NH 03301.
Copyright © 2003 Seacoast Online. All rights reserved.
N.H.'s 'Old Man of the Mountain' Is History
Landmark Falls, Leaving Cliff Face Blank
(Jim Cole -- AP)
By David Tirrell-Wysocki
Sunday, May 4, 2003; Page A09
FRANCONIA, N.H., May 3 -- The Old Man of the Mountain, the natural stone profile that appears on everything in New Hampshire from the road signs to the state quarter, fell from its mountainside, leaving nothing recognizable in the cliff face Saturday.
The profile, about 40 feet high and 25 feet wide, was one of the most photographed sites in the state and was considered New Hampshire's state symbol. Two centuries ago, Daniel Webster wrote of the Old Man of the Mountain: "In the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men."
Don Bliss, the state's director of emergency management, said there were no injuries when the stone fell sometime Friday night or early today.
It was not immediately clear what caused the fall, but Amy Bahr, president of the Franconia Heritage Museum, said she has long been aware that the natural profile could slide.
"I knew it would go sometime; I just didn't think it would happen in my lifetime," she said.
The ledges that made up the profile were perched above a slope covered with other fallen granite, and for years many feared it would join the pile.
Niels Nielsen, a state highway worker who died in 2001, was the profile's official caretaker from 1960 until a few years ago, when he passed the job on to his son. Over the years, the two tried to secure the ledges with cables and epoxy.
It was located in Franconia Notch State Park, about 70 miles north of Concord, and to the west of Interstate 93, about 1,200 feet above Profile Lake.
"You don't think about it much, but it's what everybody comes to see. It's our thing," said Eric Mueller, who works at Franconia Hardware Store. "And now it's gone."
Merrill Leads 'Old Man' Revitalization Project
Gov. Benson Chooses Former Governor To Handle Restoration Efforts
POSTED: 1:01 p.m. EDT May 4, 2003
CONCORD, N.H. -- Former New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill will lead the state's effort to revitalize the Old Man of the Mountain.
Gov. Craig Benson announced the effort in Franconia Notch Saturday after viewing the stone profile's former perch.
He said Sunday he has chosen Merrill to lead the project.
Benson says the task force will examine the possibilities of revitalizing the state symbol.
In an interview, Benson said he has no idea yet what the revitalization might involve.
He says he's heard from people who would like to see the profile rebuilt at the original site, and others who want a memorial next to Profile Lake.
The only agreement he says, is that the state should do something.
Sunday, May 04, 2003
Tragedy recalls recent trip filled with special memories of Old Man
By George Geers
During the summer of 2001, I accompanied the Nielsen party to the top of the Old Man of the Mountain. I was there to write a piece on his caretakers for AAA’s Northern New England Journey Magazine.
I have told people since the article appeared how fortunate – “honored” is a better word – I was to have walked on the Old Man’s head. How few of the millions who have seen the Great Face can say they danced on his forehead?
Today, the news of his death is chilling. I write as if the Old Man were real. To so many of us, he was.
The phone rings from friends in Franconia. “It’s like a wake up here,” one says. “Devastating. I look at the painting on the wall and realize he’s not there anymore.”
Death has come to the Old Man.
I am tempted to edit the following piece that was written in July 2001. But I can’t. I will provide an update:
Nils Nielsen died days before the following piece was published in 2001.
Last summer, during the annual visit, David placed his father’s ashes inside the Old Man.
David has since retired from the Belmont Police Department.
And, in the following story, there is one sentence I wish was false: “ . . . he will not fall in our lifetime.”
Death has come to New Hampshire. Our great man is mere memory.
The old man gazes to another time. His face bears a slight smile as he remembers the delicate forehead, scars and metal stitches.
Niels Nielsen’s days as protector to The Mountain ended years ago at Decision Rock. He no longer hikes the rugged trails nor zooms by helicopter up Cannon Mountain to inspect and repair his life’s passion. It is son David who now scrapes and paints, and directs the battle against the elements that would further chisel the great stone face.
David Nielsen, police chief of Belmont, is caretaker to the five granite ledges that are the Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. His task is huge:
Chin to top of forehead: 40 feet, 5 inches.
Forehead ledge: 45 feet by 10 feet, 300 tons.
Nose, 10 feet long; upper lip, 7 feet; chin, 12 feet; and a brow of two granite layers.
In the late spring, David is atop the Old Man to assess winter’s damage. He will let his mustache grow to handlebar proportions – a tradition – and return in July with a small army of volunteers to cut brush, scrape rock and fill cracks. This year’s big chore is a coat of epoxy for the slide that keeps water from running over the Old Man’s head.
The ledges as seen from the right resemble a profile or the visage of an Old Man - hence the affectionate name. Long enshrined in local memory through Abenaki legend, this geological curiosity was first surveyed by European settlers in 1805, by a wilderness road crew.
Niels first stepped foot on the Old Man in 1960 when he worked for the state of New Hampshire. His bond with this “awesome and spiritual place” was immediate. Soon he was its caretaker, for the Old Man is fragile. Son David would later tag along for the annual “shave and haircut.”
Most of what the Nielsens know has come from trial and error – after all, what school teaches “Maintaining Gigantic Granite Visages 101”? They have experimented with epoxies, glued split rock and painted the face with chemicals to fight acid rain. But the Nielsens are quick to praise Edward Geddes, who, in 1916, installed giant turnbuckles – or metal stitches – to hold things in place. Had it not been for that work, the forehead would have fallen and taken, perhaps, the nose and chin.
Niels relinquished his caretaker duties at “Decision Rock” when his legs no longer allowed him to jump over a chasm on the path to the Old Man. Today he is a resident of the Belknap County Nursing Home and reflects on his work: “I just enjoyed it . . . I could sit here and mumble all day about it. . . . The good Lord picked you and yours to go on these special trips to The Mountain.”
David views his work with pride, patriotism, pleasure and the public service his parents insisted he and his brothers perform for the “privilege of living in the United States.” And whether the Old Man was created by the hand of God, as Niels believes, or as a series of nature’s coincidences, in the son’s view they feel its spirit, especially when dangling over the side. Father, son and David’s wife, Debbie, have been there and know its every sharp edge, cranny and passage. Here, somewhere, David has found the nook that will hold their ashes. The family connection is that strong.
There is no doubt, the Old Man will fall someday – it could be in a thousand years or come from the earthquake New Englanders fear, but he will not fall in our lifetime. Thanks to Geddes, the Nielsens and an army of volunteers, the Old Man looks upon the greens, granite and people of New Hampshire . . . and smiles.
George Geers is the owner of Plaidswede Publishing Co. and former editor of The Telegraph.
THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN TALES AND POEMS OF THE WHITE MOUNTAINS
"Sleeping Indian" mountain seen in the Colorado Rockies from the area of Walden, CO. The Sleeping Indian is really Owl Mountain (Owl Mountain looks like the supine form, perhaps under a shroud after a brave death in battle, of an Indian Chief. You can trace the rise and fall of head, chest, and feet, and an extra lump that must be the warrior's weapons beneath the buffalo skin. Of course the real Sleeping Indian is just a head facing skyward, and you can see the profile of the face. Through binoculars the Sleeping Indian has an extra lip, but is still startlingly lifelike.
DREAMS OF THE GREAT