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Old Man of the Mountain

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Old Man of the Mountain on April 26, 2003, seven days before the collapse

The Old Man of the Mountain, also called the Great Stone Face and the Profile,[1] was a series of five granite cliff ledges on Cannon Mountain in Franconia, New Hampshire, United States, that appeared to be the jagged profile of a human face when viewed from the north. The rock formation, 1,200 feet (370 m) above Profile Lake, was 40 feet (12 m) tall and 25 feet (7.6 m) wide.

The Old Man of the Mountain is called "Stone Face" by the Abenaki and is a symbol within their culture.[2] It is also a symbol to the Mohawk people. The first written mention of the Old Man was in 1805. It became a landmark and a cultural icon for the state of New Hampshire. It collapsed on May 3, 2003.[3] After its collapse, residents considered replacing it with a replica, but the idea was ultimately rejected. It remains a visual icon on the state's license plates and in other places.


Franconia Notch is a U-shaped valley in the White Mountains that was shaped by glaciers. The Old Man formation was likely formed from freezing and thawing of water in cracks of the granite bedrock sometime after the retreat of glaciers 12,000 years ago.[4] The formation was first noted in the records of a Franconia surveying team around 1805. Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks, part of the surveying team, were the first two to record observing the Old Man.[4] The official state history says several groups of surveyors were working in the Franconia Notch area at the time and claimed credit for the discovery.

Indigenous legends[edit]

According to Abenaki legend, a human named Nis Kizos was born during an eclipse. He became a good leader and provider for his community. Nis Kizos was successful enough to attend Kchi Mahadan, a great gathering of other communities to trade. Tarlo, a beautiful Iroquois woman, returned with him. They fell in love. Tarlo had to return to her birth village because its people had been struck by a sickness. Nis Kizos promised he would live at the top of the mountain. By day he would look out for her, and at night he would light a fire to guide her back. With winter fast approaching, the elders sent Nis Kizos's brother Gezosa to bring him back. He was unsuccessful because Nis Kizo maintained his promise. Tarlo died in her birth village of sickness. After the winter Gezosa went back up the mountain to bring the news of Tarlo and retrieve Nis Kizos. He found no signs of the existence of Nis Kizos and was stricken with sadness. On his way back down the mountain he looked back and found Nis Kizos had become part of the mountain as a stone face to look after the land.

A modern addition to the Abenaki legend is that when Stone Face fell in 2003, he finally was re-united with Tarlo. The Great Circle was rejoined.[2]

Denise Ortakales published a children's book in 2005 called The Legend of the Old Man of the Mountain, which relates the Mohawk legend of the stone face. In the tale, Chief Pemigewassat loved a maiden named Minerwa of the Mohawk people, which brought peace between their tribes for a long time. When Minerwa went back home to visit her dying father, Chief Pemigewassat promised he would stay and wait for her to return. However, the Great Spirit claimed him during the winter, and his people buried him facing towards Minerwa to watch for her return. His face was immortalized in the stone as the stone face, forever waiting and watching.[5]

Post-colonial history[edit]

The Old Man of the Mountain in the early 1900s

The Old Man became famous across the United States largely because of statesman Daniel Webster, a New Hampshire native, who once wrote: "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 up in the Mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men."

The writer Nathaniel Hawthorne used the Old Man as inspiration for his short story "The Great Stone Face", published in 1850, in which he described the formation as "a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness".

The profile has been New Hampshire's state emblem since 1945.[6] It was put on the state's license plate, state route signs, and on the back of New Hampshire's statehood quarter, which is popularly promoted as the only US coin with a profile on both sides. Before the collapse, it could be seen from special viewing areas along Interstate 93 in Franconia Notch State Park, approximately 80 miles (130 km) north of the state's capital, Concord.


A composite photograph of the Old Man of the Mountain, made of photos taken before and after the collapse.

Freezing and thawing opened fissures in the Old Man's "forehead". By the 1920s, the crack was wide enough to be mended with chains, and in 1957 the state legislature passed a $25,000 appropriation for a more elaborate weatherproofing, using 20 tons of fast-drying cement, plastic covering and steel rods and turnbuckles, plus a concrete gutter to divert runoff from above. A team from the state highway and park divisions maintained the patchwork each summer.[7]

Nevertheless, the formation collapsed to the ground between midnight and 2 a.m., May 3, 2003.[3] Dismay over the collapse was so great that people visited to pay tribute, with some leaving flowers.[8][9]

After the collapse[edit]

View recreated via one of the "steel profilers" located in Profiler Plaza, in 2019

Early after the collapse, many New Hampshire residents considered replacement with a replica. That idea was rejected by an official task force in 2003 headed by former Governor Steve Merrill.[10]

In 2004, the state legislature considered, but did not accept, a proposal to change New Hampshire's state flag to include the profile.[11]

On the first anniversary of the collapse in May 2004, the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund (OMMLF) began operating coin-operated viewfinders near the base of the cliff. When looking through them up at the cliff of Cannon Mountain one can see a "before" and "after" of how the Old Man of the Mountain used to appear.[3]

Seven years after the collapse, on June 24, 2010, the OMMLF, now the Friends of the Old Man of the Mountain, broke ground for the first phase of the state-sanctioned "Old Man of the Mountain Memorial" on a walkway along Profile Lake below Cannon Cliff. It consists of a viewing platform with "Steel Profilers", which, when aligned with the Cannon Cliff above, create what the profile looked like up on the cliff overlooking the Franconia Notch. The project was overseen by Friends of the Old Man of the Mountain/Franconia Notch,[12] a committee that succeeded the Old Man of the Mountain Revitalization Task Force. The Legacy Fund is a private 501(c)(3) corporation with representatives from various state agencies and several private nonprofits.[13]

In 2013, the board called a halt to further fundraising. They announced their intention to spend what was left on minor improvements and dissolve the board.[10]

The memorial was completed in September 2020.[14]

Other proposals that were considered but rejected include:

  • Architect Francis Treves envisioned a walk-in profile made of 250 panels of structural glass attached to tubular steel framework and concrete tower, connected by a tram, rim trail or tunnel through to the cliff wall at the original site. It won an American Institute of Architects Un-Built Project Award.[15][16][17]
  • In 2009, Ken N. Gidge, a state representative from Nashua, proposed building a copper replica of the Old Man on level ground above the ledge at the original site where hiking trails already lead.[18]

Timeline of the Old Man[edit]

The formation on a 1926 New Hampshire license plate
U. S. stamp issued in 1955. The plural version of the name is unusual.
The reverse of the state quarter of New Hampshire features the Old Man of the Mountain, alongside the state motto "Live Free or Die".
New Hampshire route markers continue to feature the profile of the Old Man of the Mountain.

Details of the history of the Old Man of the Mountain include:[19]

  • 17th millennium BC6th millennium BCNew England undergoes the Wisconsin glaciation, the most recent ice age. Glaciers cover New England and post-glacial erosion creates the cliff which would subsequently erode into the Old Man of the Mountain at Franconia Notch.
  • 1805 — Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks, part of a Franconia surveying crew, are the first white settlers to record observing the Old Man, according to the official New Hampshire history.
  • Early 1800s — American statesman Daniel Webster brings national attention to the profile in his writings.
  • 1832 — Author Nathaniel Hawthorne visits the area.
  • 1850 — Hawthorne publishes "The Great Stone Face", a short story inspired by his visit. The story's title becomes an alternative name for the formation.
  • 1869 — President Ulysses S. Grant visits the formation.
  • 1906 — The Reverend Guy Roberts of New Hampshire, is the first to publicize signs of deterioration of the formation.[20]
  • 1916 — New Hampshire Governor Rolland H. Spaulding begins a concerted state effort to preserve the formation.
  • 1926 — The formation appears on all New Hampshire passenger, dealer, replacement, and sample license plates for this year.
  • 1945 — The Old Man is made the New Hampshire State Emblem.[6]
  • 1955 — President Dwight D. Eisenhower visits the profile as part of the Old Man's 150th "birthday" celebration.
  • 1958 — Major repair work to the Old Man's forehead as a result of a legislative appropriation the previous year.
  • 1965 — Niels Nielsen, a state highway worker, becomes the unofficial guardian of the profile, in an effort to protect the formation from vandalism and the ravages of the weather.[21]
  • 1974 — From 1974 to 1979, each license plate validation sticker has a likeness of the formation.
  • 1976 — For the United States Bicentennial the formation is once again available on the state's license plate, but it costs an extra $5 and it can only be used as a front plate.
  • 1986 — Vandalizing the Old Man is classified as a crime under the state criminal mischief law. Under the law (RSA 634:2 VI) it is a misdemeanor for any person to vandalize, deface or destroy any part of the Old Man, with a penalty of a fine of between $1,000 and $3,000 and restitution to the state for any damage caused.[22]
  • 1987 — Nielsen is named the official caretaker of the Old Man by the state of New Hampshire. Beginning this year all passenger car license plates now have a small image of the formation at the top. This practice continued through 1999. The license plates distributed after 1999 were redesigned to feature the Old Man of the Mountain much more prominently.
  • 1988 — A 12-mile (19 km) stretch of Interstate 93 (which also runs jointly with U.S. Route 3 through the notch) opens below Cannon Mountain. The $56 million project, which took 30 years to build, was a compromise between the desire for a four-lane interstate and those who sought to limit the impact on the notch.
  • 1991 — David Nielsen, son of Niels Nielsen, becomes the official caretaker of the Old Man.
  • 2000 — The Old Man is featured on the state quarter of New Hampshire, and becomes the graphic background on passenger car license plates.
  • 2003 — The Old Man collapses.[3]
  • 2004 — Coin-operated viewfinders are installed to show how the Old Man looked before its collapse.[3]
  • 2007 — Design of an Old Man of the Mountain memorial announced.
  • 2010 — First phase of the state-sanctioned "Old Man of the Mountain Memorial" is unveiled.
  • 2011 — Profiler Plaza is dedicated on June 12.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Franconia Notch". Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  2. ^ a b "The Wobanadenok". Indigenous New Hampshire Collaborative Collective. December 6, 2018. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation: Old Man of the Mountain Historic Site Accessed: 14 August 2012.
  4. ^ a b Linowes, Jonathan. "Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund: Geology of the Old Man of the Mountain". Retrieved 2017-03-30.
  5. ^ "The Legend of the Old Man of the Mountain". The Free Library. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  6. ^ a b " – New Hampshire Almanac – State Emblem".
  7. ^ Daniel Ford, The Country Northward (1976), p. 52.
  8. ^ "Today is the 15th anniversary of Old Man of the Mountain's collapse". The Berlin Daily Sun. May 1, 2018. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  9. ^ Colquhoun, Laura (May 11, 2003). "Hundreds Gather for Goodbyes". New Hampshire Union Leader. p. A1.
  10. ^ a b Merrill, Steve. "Old Man of the Mountain Memorial". Live Free or Die Alliance. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  11. ^ J. Dennis Robinson (Feb 27, 2004). "Save the Seal, Keep the Ship". Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  12. ^ Lorna Colquhoun (June 25, 2010). "Old Man's profile makes return". New Hampshire Union Leader. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  13. ^ "Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund". Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  14. ^ AP: "Old Man memorial hopes for more volunteers" 14 September 2020
  15. ^ Garry Rayno (April 24, 2009). "Designer: Replace Old Man with walk-in glass replica". New Hampshire Union-Leader. Retrieved July 20, 2010.
  16. ^ "Redefinition of the Old Man of the Mountain". Francis Treves, AIA. April 26, 2010. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
  17. ^ Dave. "Replacing the Old Man of the Mountain – with information from the Architect". Towns and Trails. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  18. ^ Edge Mugga (January 7, 2009). "New Hampshire Proposal to Rebuild the Old Man of the Mountain: HB 192". Edge-On Blog. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  19. ^ "Old Man Of The Mountain Legacy Fund: Historical Timeline".
  20. ^ Speck, Jerel (2019-06-20). Clark, Susan (ed.). "The men who went to great heights to save the Old Man". Neighborhood News. Vol. 1, no. 33. Manchester, New Hampshire: Neighborhood News, Inc. p. 11.
  21. ^ "Old Man Timeline". Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund. Retrieved April 20, 2017.
  22. ^ "Title LXII, Criminal Code, Chapter 634, Destruction of Property, Section 634:2". New Hampshire General Court. Retrieved July 6, 2010.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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Coordinates: 44°09′38″N 71°41′00″W / 44.1606203°N 71.6834169°W / 44.1606203; -71.6834169