Old Man of the Mountain - RIP

Thursday, September 28, 2006

“Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades:
Shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe;
Jewelers a monster watch;
And a 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” – Daniel Webster

A nice description of one of New Hampshire’s best known sights, the Old Man of the Mountain.

Too bad it’s not there anymore.

Sometime during the evening of May 3, 2003, the Old Man of the Mountain, estimated to be in place for the past 30,000 years, went to meet his maker.

The famous outline of a man’s head created by 5 huge granite slabs hung precariously off the top of a mountain. In the early 1900’s, geologists began to realize that the Old Man wasn’t a permanent fixture, and was in imminent danger of collapse. Due to concern over the topmost slab (the forehead) sliding off, stabilization efforts were undertaken to preserve the figure. Since then, the Old Man was inspected several times a year to insure the cable anchoring system was performing its job.

However, it’s what you don’t know that always gets you. The cables anchoring the slabs controlled movement of the topmost rocks. What ultimatelyfailed, however, was the bottom slab – the chin. Due to a little known cave behind the chin, this rock was hanging almost entirely off into space, balancing the slabs above only due to the location of the center of gravity. Additional weathering ultimately caused this rock to fall, bringing down the rest of the face.

While the loss of the Old Man has proved both an embarrassment and heartache for New Hampshire, the Old Man is still everywhere. His image is emblazed on NH State Hwy signs, and many of the car tags sport images of his face. Tourist guide books that haven’t been updated in the last couple of years still
direct people to the site.

Visiting the ‘Old Man’ museum and viewing area is a strange experience. The museum makes almost no mention of the fact the Old Man is no more, instead focusing on the development of the tourism industry that sprang up in the area, and the stabilization efforts that had taken place for the last 90 years.

The viewing area is almost as surreal – a large parking lot, a nicely paved trail, lots of information signs that haven’t been updated to reflect the loss of the big guy, and finally, several viewing telescopes looking at a now bare cliff. Only a single information sign at the viewing area describing the fall of the rock gives you any idea that the Old Man is no more, otherwise you’d be staring up at a rock cliff wondering what is going on.

Vance was fascinated by the Old Man, insisting repeatedly that parts of his head were in the forest after they fell. We never could convince him that the rocks from the face were now a pile of rubble at the face of the cliff – he preferred to think large rocks he came across in the woods were part of theOld Man. After awhile, it was more romantic to adopt his version…

“What a long, strange trip it’s been” – Jerry Garcia

As hard as this is to believe, ultra-sonic imagery performed of the surrounding rock by state geologists indicate the possibility of another face forming sometime in the future. Although it’s unknown exactly how the weathering of the rock will proceed, current computer models predict something like the picture shown:

Vance: The Old Man of the Mountain was a very famous granite face. Many people came to visit it. When they heard it was about to fall down, one man and his family worked very hard to try to save it. But there was no success, the face came down in late spring, 2003. To the people of New Hampshire, it was like they lost a friend. I feel bad for them, if I lived here, I would be sad as well.

First we went into the museum and learned some history about the old man. Next we went on a trail leading to the viewpoint. The face was not there, but you could see where it was.


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