North Country
4:02 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

Ten Years Later, Old Man Of The Mountain's Legacy Lives On

Friday marks 10 years since the Old Man of the Mountain, New Hampshire’s most iconic symbol, collapsed from its point along the side of Cannon Mountain.

A ceremony will be held Friday at 11:30 a.m. to commemorate the anniversary.

One thing you can say about the Old Man of the Mountain – he’s got staying power.

Just ask Dick Hamilton, head of the Old Man’s legacy fund.

“It’s on our license plate. It’s on the highway signs. It’s on the State Trooper cruiser. It’s on the state quarter.”

We even have an honorary state song that pays tribute to the Great Stone Face.

New Hampshire’s most defining symbol still seems omnipresent in many ways – except for the one place it can no longer be seen – at its perch 1,200 feet up the side Cannon Mountain.

Along the shores of Profile Lake, the Profiler Plaza opened two years ago and sits at the base of what was the Old Man viewing point.

Beams with the Old Man’s silhouette now stand where people can still get a sense of what it looked like. Hamilton explains how it works:

“You have to stand in a particular spot. And you stand there and look at it, the left hand side of the profiler aimed at the Cannon cliff, will you give you the image of the Old Man, putting the Old Man back on the mountain where he used to be.”

Hamilton has been at the memorial all morning, marking off stones in the plaza that people have purchased. For a donation, people can engrave a stone with their names and a message.

All the money goes toward maintaining the site.

Hamilton led the fundraising effort to build the memorial plaza, but says donations have dried up, and the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy fund is ending efforts to expand the site.

For him, the work has been personal. He first saw the Old Man when he was a child, when his parents took him for a trip through the mountains.

He went on to spend 35 years as president of the White Mountains Attractions Association.

“Obviously, the Old Man was the number one attraction. And I live in Littleton, so every night on my way home, I would drive by and look out the window and whether I could see him or not, I would say, ‘Good night, boss.’ And that was my signature.”

Even though the Old Man has been gone for 10 years, some tourists still come, though not nearly as many as before.

Phyllis and Bob Grigg came from Edgecomb, Maine. They hadn’t seen the Old Man since it fell.

Phyllis talks about what the symbol means to her.

“Lastingness, really. And just the work of nature. Evolving.”

Ellie Lovett runs the cash register at the Franconia Village store, just few miles north on I-93.

She remembers the day the Old Man fell. A customer came in and told her. She didn’t believe it, and drove there after getting off work. She had to see it for herself.

“It was almost like someone you knew died. You know, very strange, you think, ‘I’m really gonna miss him.’” I used to say hi to him, every time I drove through the Notch. It’s kind of crazy to be acquainted with a bunch of rocks. But it’s a symbol.”

But once that symbol crumbled, so did the number of tourists.

“It’s made a difference; it’s made a difference, ‘cause they used to have busloads come up there. Yeah, they don’t come by busloads anymore.”

Down in Concord, at the New Hampshire Historical Society museum, a few images of the Old Man are still present.

Allison Gamble gives a tour to a group of fourth-graders from Dover. She stops by the side of an old stage coach, where a portrait of the Old Man is painted on the left-side door.

“How many of you have heard of the Old Man of the Mountain?” Gamble said.

Ten-year-old Ashlyn Smith never saw the Old Man, but says it’s still important.

“I think it’s really cool. And I think it’s a really big part of history.”

At the historical society, Stephanie Skenyon directs the education programs.

She says teachers still request that the Old Man be part of the tour presentations.

But now that it’s been gone for so long, Skenyon thinks the state’s next generation may come to accept other symbols as the state’s defining emblem.

“The Old Man of the Mountain is obviously one of the most prominent, but it’s not the only symbol we have in this state. And I wonder if one of the other symbols that we have that exist now might take over ultimately from a significance perspective to people.”

That being said, Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Boynton says there’s little chance of the sacred profile coming off state highway signs any time soon.

“When we ventured into areas like changing the roads signs from mileage to metric, we bought into a firestorm. So you can imagine what would happen if we tried to remove the Old Man from the traffic signs.”

So for now, it appears the Old Man’s legacy is as solid as Granite.

Dick Hamilton hopes it stays that way.

“We hope the Old Man stays in people’s minds, at least visibly, for the next 100 years.”