The Old Man of the Mountain
The Old Man of the Mountain, also known as the Great Stone Face or the Profile,
was a series of five granite cliff ledges on Cannon Mountain in the White Mountains
of New Hampshire, USA that, when viewed from the correct angle, appeared to be
the jagged profile of a face. The outcrop was 1,200 feet (370 m) above Profile Lake,
and measured 40 feet (12 m) tall and 25 feet (7.6 m) wide. The site is located in the
town of Franconia.
The first recorded mention of the Old Man was in 1805. It collapsed on May 3, 2003
The formation was carved by glaciers and was first recorded as being discovered by
a surveying team circa 1805. The official state history says several groups of surveyors
were working in the Franconia Notch area at the time and claimed credit for the discovery.
Face-like stone formations are common around the world. The Old Man was famous
largely because of statesman Daniel Webster, a New Hampshire native, who once wrote:
"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."
The writer Nathaniel Hawthorne used the Old Man as inspiration for his short story
"The Great Stone Face," published in 1850, in which he described the formation as
"a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness."
The profile has been New Hampshire's state emblem since 1945. It was put on the
state's license plate, state highway-route signs, and the back of New Hampshire's
Statehood Quarter, which is popularly promoted as the only US coin with a profile on
both sides. Before the collapse, it could be seen from special viewing areas along
Interstate 93 in Franconia Notch State Park, approximately 80 miles (130 km) north of
the state's capital, Concord.
Defying attempts at preservation, including the use of cables and spikes for most of
the 20th century, the formation collapsed to the ground between midnight and 2 a.m.,
May 3, 2003. Centuries of wind, snow, and rain, as well as freezing and thawing cycles,
finally caught up with the profile. Dismay over the collapse was so great that people left
flowers at the base of the cliffs in tribute; some state legislators sought to change New
Hampshire's state flag to include the profile. Some, such as award-winning architect
Francis Treves, suggested the Old Man be replaced with a replica an idea that was
quickly rejected by an official task force headed by former Governor Steve Merrill.
On the first anniversary of the collapse, the task force unveiled coin-operated
viewfinders near the base of the cliff. Looking through them shows how the Old Man
used to appear.
On February 7, 2007, plans were announced at the New Hampshire State Library for
an Old Man of the Mountain memorial, to include five huge stones that, viewed from
a raised platform, merge into a form that recreates the profile outline. It is being
overseen by Friends of The Old Man of The Mountain/Franconia Notch, a committee
that succeeded the Old Man of the Mountain Revitalization Task Force. The Legacy
Fund is a private 501(c)(3) corporation with representatives from various state agencies
and several private nonprofits.
Timeline of the Old Man
17th millennium BC6th millennium BC An ice sheet recedes from North America,
substantially reshaping the mountains, rerouting the rivers, and creating lakes and ponds
found on the northern part of the continent.
8th millennium BC New England undergoes the Wisconsin glaciation, the most recent
ice age. Glaciers cover New England and post-glacial erosion creates the cliff which
would subsequently erode into the Old Man of the Mountain at Franconia Notch.
1805 Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks, part of a Franconia surveying crew, are the
first white settlers to record observing the Old Man, according to the official New Hampshire
1832 Author Nathaniel Hawthorne visits the area and later publishes a story called
"The Great Stone Face".
1869 President Ulysses S. Grant visits the formation.
1906 The Reverend Guy Roberts of Massachusetts is the first to publicize signs of
deterioration of the formation.
1916 New Hampshire Governor Rolland H. Spaulding begins a concerted state effort
to preserve the formation.
1945 The Old Man is made the New Hampshire State Emblem.
1955 President Dwight D. Eisenhower visits the profile as part of the Old Man's 150th
1965 Niels Nielsen, a state highway worker, becomes unofficial guardian of the profile,
in an effort to protect the formation from vandalism and the ravages of the weather.
1986 Vandalizing the Old Man is classified as a crime under the state criminal mischief
law. Under the law (RSA 634:2 VI) it is a misdemeanor for any person to vandalize, deface
or destroy any part of the Old Man, with a penalty of a fine of between $1,000 and $3,000
and restitution to the state for any damage caused.
1987 Nielsen is named the official caretaker of the Old Man by the state of New Hampshire.
1988 A 12-mile (19 km) stretch of Interstate 93 opens below Cannon Mountain. The $56
million project, which took 30 years to build, was a compromise between the government
and environmentalists that sought to protect the surrounding landscape.
1991 David Nielsen, son of Niels Nielsen, becomes the official caretaker of the Old Man.
2000 The Old Man is featured on the state quarter of New Hampshire.
2003 The Old Man collapses.
2004 Coin-operated viewfinders are installed to show how the Old Man looked before its
2007 Design of an Old Man of the Mountain memorial announced. It will feature large stone
sculptures near the current viewfinders.
The Old Man of the Mountain Memorial
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