In 1886, a professor named C.H. Hitchcock urged travelers to hurry up and see The Old Man of the Mountain because he might crumble soon.
A guidebook to the White Mountains quoted him urging people to see the Old Man soon. “I would advise any persons who are anxious to see the Profile for themselves, to hasten to the spot, for fear of disappointment,” he said.
The Old Man included a series of five granite ledges hanging precariously (it seemed) 1,200 feet above the floor of Franconia Notch. He measured 40 feet high from forehead to chin. Over the years, chains held him together. So did cement, plastic, steel rods and turnbuckles.
Hitchcock was finally vindicated 117 years later, when the Old Man collapsed on May 3, 2003. The loss so saddened the people of New Hampshire they left flower tributes at the base of the mountain.
The Old Man of the Mountain
For nearly 200 years, the Old Man of the Mountain was a wondrous tourist attraction. He also became a symbol in which New Hampshire took great pride.
The Old Man served as New Hampshire’s state emblem since 1945, appearing on the state’s license plate, state route signs, and on the back of New Hampshire’s Statehood Quarter.
New Hampshire native Daniel Webster perhaps best expressed what the Old Man represented. “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 Old Man inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to write “The Great Stone Face.” In the 1850 short story he described the rock formation as “a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness.”
Discovery of the Old Man
New Hampshire had achieved statehood only 17 years earlier when two surveyors from Franconia, N.H.– Luke Brooks and Francis Whitcomb — ‘discovered’ The Old Man of the Mountain in 1805.
They were working on the notch road, which farmers north of the notch used to go to markets in Portsmouth and Boston. No settlers may have seen the Old Man because of the dense underbrush and tree branches that met overhead.
One day in June, Luke Brooks woke up in camp, went to Profile Lake (then Ferrin’s Pond) for water and saw the sun illuminate the granite face of the Old Man of the Mountain.
That, at least, is the most widely accepted story of how the Old Man first came to the white settlers’ attention.
With thanks to The White Mountains: Alps of New England by Randall H. Bennett. Composite image of the Old Man By Rob Gallagher – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Kelly using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16212839. This story was updated in 2022.