On this day 16 years ago, the state’s most iconic symbol collapsed, ending decades of efforts aimed at preventing that.
“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.” –Daniel Webster
On this day, sixteen years ago, New Hampshire’s Most Famous Face fell from its post high above Profile Lake in Franconia Notch. The unique five granite ledges of Cannon Mountain that made up the Old Man of the Mountain’s distinct profile was first pointed out to settlers by Native Americans in 1805. For the next two centuries, millions traveled from near and far to see the rare beautiful work nature and time had created together – which would also be its eventual demise. But the legacy of the Old Man of the Mountain lives on. The profile can be seen on New Hampshire licenses, license plates, route signs, the NH quarter, and of course in the memories of those who were able to experience it first-hand. Especially for those who worked to extend the Old Man’s existence, which one man, Niels Nielsen made his personal mission.
In 1965, Nielsen, a maintenance and construction supervisor, took on an additional role as the Old Man’s caretaker. And care he – and later his son David – did. The two generations of Nielsens spearheaded the efforts for years to come, working with volunteers and members of NH State Parks to install everything from steel rods and cables to fast-drying cement and epoxy to keep the rocks together and special plastic covers and gullies designed to divert rainwater to manage the erosion of the granite. Even with the extensive efforts, time and nature would eventually be too much for the Great Stone Face.
Sometime between midnight and 2:00 a.m. on May 3, 2003, the Old Man on the Mountain came tumbling down. For days, the people of New Hampshire came together and paid their respects by laying flowers at the base of the mountain – the state even considered altering its flag to include the celebrated profile. Instead, a memorial was built at the old viewing platform in the Franconia Notch State Park. The Old Man of the Mountain memorial spot, Profiler Plaza, is a park that stands as a testament both to the generosity of the New England community and the structure itself where visitors can still get a view of what once was. Small museum displays educate the public about the Old Man’s legacy, the geology that created him, and the mechanics that kept him from falling sooner than he did.