Saturday, May 3, 2008
The Old Man Gone Five Years Now
On May 3, 2003, I awoke happily looking forward to my 53rd birthday. My mood changed to disbelief then sadness when I turned to my local news to discover that the Old Man of the Mountain no longer gazed over New Hampshire. Sometime during the early morning hours he fell leaving a huge void on the side of the mountain as well as a huge sense of loss in the hearts of my fellow Granite Staters and me.
The Old Man beckoned people from all over the world to visit him from the time he was first spotted by workers constructing the carriage road from Woodstock to Franconia in 1805. He rested majestically on the western side of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Improvements in the roads and the building of railroads into the White Mountains brought tourists to the area. By the 1840's the word of the Old Man had spread. He brought thousands of tourists into the state.
His granite profile symbolized New Hampshire -- the Granite State. The Old Man's story began about two hundred million years ago when an ice sheet fractured the granite with its heaving, freezing and thawing actions. Huge blocks of the granite broke away falling off the sheer precipice approximately 1200 feet above Profile Lake. According to experts this process finally revealed the Old Man's face about 2,000 to 10,000 years ago. His face was 25 feet wide and 40 feet long. Five granite ledges combine to form his face, which accounted for the fact that his profile was visible only from particular vantage points along the highway and at Profile Lake.
During the 1880s the Appalachian Mountain Club reported that his forehead was slipping. According to experts of the day, repairing the forehead to prevent it from slipping further was impossible. Measurements and photographs taken in 1906 by Reverend Guy Roberts, who climbed the face, provided the first record of the Old Man. Roberts returned in 1915 with a Quincy, MA quarryman EH Geddes to find that the stone had moved 1 1/4 inches. Geddes made the trek again in September of 1916 carrying a fifty pound pack containing tools and supplies needed to secure the ledge. He accomplished his task in 8 days. In 1927 and 1937 other supports were installed. Periodic inspections and repairs were a regular part of the Old Man's upkeep.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of man down through the years to preserve the Old Man, nature's fury that created him ultimately destroyed him. Fundraisers to construct a memorial began almost immediately. Five huge stone monoliths, each with a different part of the profile, will be arranged so that a replica of the Old Man man will appear once the visitor reaches a certain point in the path along the way, reproducing his sudden appearance to countless people driving through Franconia Notch.
I know that losing the Old Man to nature doesn't begin to compare to the human loss and suffering of so many people in this country due to hurricanes and tornadoes. My thoughts and prayers are with them.
Still, there is an ache that is especially keen on my birthday - the day we lost the Old Man of the Mountain.
My source for the history of the repair work:
Back Porch Tales by Karl M Frost & Evelyn M Ellingson, 1974, in the USA.
Photos of repair work on the Old Man, climbers, memorabilia, and EH Geddes
Image of the Old Man is licensed to me by Damselsoft and may not be reproduced.