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May 3, 2003

Old Man falls off mountain
Posted by Teresa at 07:01 PM *

New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain rock formation, visible on the New Hampshire quarter and just about everything else made in the state (except for stuff decorated with pine trees, maple leaves, or moose), fell off its mountain today. No rockface is forever, especially in an area with weather as unchancy as Franconia Notch; but still, it’s a loss.

According to our exclusive New Hampshire news source, the spring thaw could have had something to do with it, but so could a violent thunderstorm last night. When the cloud cover finally lifted around 4:30 this afternoon, the famous profile was gone. As reported by Reuters:
The 40-foot-high profile, formed of five granite ledges in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in a process that started some 200 million years ago, was reported missing by a trail crew working near the town of Franconia on Saturday morning.

Amy Cyrs was a member of the crew. She said she had been working on the trail and looked up, and stopped in her tracks when she saw the face had vanished.

“It’s a strange and unreal feeling that something that has been there all your life is gone,” she said.

Police had not determined a cause, but said natural forces most likely pulled the face down. They did not know exactly when it had fallen from its mountainside perch 1,200 feet up on Cannon Mountain.

The “Old Man” adorns the New Hampshire emblem, its quarter coin and countless signs, souvenirs and visitor brochures …
The Old Man of the Mountain is survived by a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, certain famous remarks by Daniel Webster, a very weird Cab Calloway/Betty Boop cartoon, and innumerable snapshots and postcards.
Comments on Old Man falls off mountain:
#1 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 08:44 PM:

This page has before and after photos.

#2 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 10:31 PM:

Do coyotes chase roadrunners in New Hampshire?

I've heard of "loss of face" and of people's faces falling, but never so literally!

But now that I've got the jokes out of the way, I'll note that a few of those innumerable photos are mine. They're in a box in my living room. It's also survived by lots of memories. Mine are from 1975 when my sister Ginny was living in NH (her husband was in the Air Force and stationed in Portsmouth), and we travelled to that part of the state.

We also went hiking in Franconia Notch that day. I was a bit concerned for Ginny since she was 5 months pregnant, but she held up well. We did not know yet that it was twins!

The Old Man wasn't exactly an old friend, but "he" was an acquaintance I enjoyed "meeting" (and photographing), however briefly. I am shocked and saddened at the news of his sudden collapse. Condolences to Jim and Debra and all their neighbors in the Granite State, which was a great place to visit (and to multiply my aunthood).

#3 ::: Bill Higgins ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 01:18 AM:

I've never seen the Old Man, and I guess I never will. But I have a brief Old Man story from 2001. I wrote it for an audience of Solar System Ambassadors, volunteers for NASA who give talks about planetary exploration.

25 cents' worth of advice about Mars

Tuesday I gave a luncheon talk and slideshow to a group of senior citizens in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Anticipating that I might get a "Face on Mars" question, I included it as the last slide in my tray. I've done this before. But as I was fumbling for tollway change on my way to the luncheon, inspiration struck me.

Sure enough, at the end of the talk, somebody asked if the Face on Mars was artificial. I showed the Cydonia slide and briefly explained what the Face is. Then I pulled a coin out of my pocket and handed it to the questioner. "Can you tell me what this is?" I asked.

In its wisdom, the U.S. Mint has issued a quarter celebrating New Hampshire. The reverse side pictures "The Old Man of the Mountain" --a natural rock formation that looks just like a face! The comparison is obvious, and as my questioner passed my coin around to his curious neighbors, I said that it would be surprising that a planet the size of Mars would have NO rocks that resembled faces.

From now on, I'm keeping a New Hampshire quarter in my slide collection next to the Face...

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 02:01 AM:

Maybe the Old Man was rubbed out because he knew *too much* about its brother face at Cydonia.

* * *

I recently took in _Rivers and Tides_, a documentary about Scottish (?) artists Andrew Goldsworthy. He specializes in empheral art made with natural materials: Mandela-like piece made with flower petals, sculptures made from driftwood placed so the rising tide would sweep them away, patterns of snow scraped from an icy pond.

The Old Man could be seen as a piece of contingent ephemeral art. Charming while he lasted, but also testament to the fact that even the mountains that seem solid and permanent to us eventually pass.

#5 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 06:26 AM:

Of course I've heard about the face on Mars.

I've never heard about the face in New Hampshire, until now.

It must be a conspiracy.

#6 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 06:48 AM:

We spent many a summer day visiting New Hampshire and staying with friends in Franconia when the kids were small. (And body surfacing down through the rocks at the Pemi River. (Won't even attempt spelling of its name.)

We waved at the Old Man every dang time. When I saw the news story last night about it being gone, I almost wept.


#7 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 07:36 AM:

The governor wants to rebuild the Old Man--with voluntary donations, not tax dollars, in the state's present fiscal constraints--but I'm hopeful that that's just an immediate reaction to the shock, and that when the first shock is over, both the impracticality (if it can be done at all, it would probably be expensive enough to require tax money) and the inappropriateness (what made the Old Man so wonderful was that it _was_ a natural formation, not man-made) will be apparent.

Dave, I'm torn between a wholly parochial "How could you possibly not have heard of something that's so important around _here_!" and a somewhat more detached surprise that the BBC had picked up this obviously local and minor story so quickly yesterday. I heard it first on local news, then found a story on Yahoo, and then when I tuned in the BBC, they already had it.

#9 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 08:28 AM:

I'm gld that I had the chance to see it a couple of times. The last such chance was last year, when my brother was visiting from France with his family. I'm just sorry I never had a chance to share it with the rest of my family.

Of course, the comic geek part of my looked at an "after" picture and said, "Well, it still looks a little bit like Ben Grimm." (The Thing, member of the Fantastic Four.) Well, it was close to 1 a.m. when I saw it.

I agree with the comment about the well-intentioned but foolish talk of "replacing" it. The whole point was that it was God's hand made manifest in native stone. A sculpture is just a sculpture, and with this state's track record there's probably already a group out there who want it to be shaped to look like the profile of Reagan. Or of the Shrub. *shudder*

#10 ::: Janet Kegg ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 10:25 AM:

I hope they respect geology and don't try to "restore" the Old Man.

The Nashua Telegraph has an article
today with quotes from folks mourning his passing.

-- Janet

#11 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 11:16 AM:

Actually, the Betty Boop cartoon is pretty much about a Calloway version of the original "Old Man of the Mountain," with his crazy cult of hash-addled assistant assassins. Though I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the stone landmark shows up somewhere in the cartoon, which I haven't watched in a few months. Calloway plays an old white coot with white hair and beard who knocks up woodland animals and causes women to bear old babies with beards. His line "gonna do the best I can" is echoed in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

#12 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 11:53 AM:

Saw the old guy in my youth when I spent 2 summers at camp in NH. Sorry to see him go.
Obviously, this is further proof, as if it was needed, that international terrorism will stop at nothing, as it attempts to pull down the very symbols of our freedom. We must further restrict civil liberties now!

#13 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 12:11 PM:

To Robert L.
The NH state motto is "Live free or die"
Maybe we should look at the Old Man as the canary in the coal mine...

#14 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 02:21 PM:

I'm bummed. My family has owned a place in Franconia for over 20 years, and we rented for 10 years there before that. Every time we drove up through the Notch on 93 the old man was there looking down.

Now he won't be. It's sort of feels like a death in the family.

My cousin and my brother and I were actually planning this summer to bushwhack up the side of Canon just over the Lake, to peer down at the face from above.

Still planning to do it, but maybe now we should bring a small flask and drink a shot to the departed....

#15 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 11:38 AM:


It's even weirder than that:

New Hampshire residents who own automobiles are required by state law to carry a placard on their vehicle exhorting everyone who sees it to "Live Free or Die." Court challenges have been posed by genuine freedom-seekers seeking an exemption from this compelled speech, and they have been turned down, one and all.

(The Old Man was an old friend. I'm sorry to see him gone; but I hope to hell this screwball "restoration" idea gets nowhwere.)

#16 ::: Swsh ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 02:54 PM:

dmt hd t lgh t th nws f th ld Mn's dms.

S typcll Nw Hmpshr -- th lt th SMBL f thr fckng STT crmbl w.

Dn't hld yr brth wtng fr NH tx $ t b spnt n "rstrtn."

M, NH rchd ts pk, cltrll nd cnmcll, n bt 1830. t's bn n dcln vr snc.

Th ld Mn s jst th ltst mnfsttn f ths.

#17 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 04:12 PM:

Uh, Swoosh? I hate to break it to you, but they've been protecting the Face since 1916. The problem is that the Face was a geological freak. (From the pictures, the "chin" was formed when rock broke away from under a wall; this commonly happens in waterfalls, but when it does the rest of the wall breaks fairly soon and the waterfall backs up a few feet.) The state used pins inside the rock, and sealed cracks opened by weathering, but there was a limit to what could be done invisibly; visible repairs would have spoiled the point that this was a "natural phenomenon".

There are a lot of reasons to snicker at New Hampshire and its license-plate posturing, but this isn't one of them.

#18 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 04:19 PM:

Alan, um, no, actually the courts have upheld the right of motorists to cover up the motto if they so choose.

Swoosh, the Old Man was a product of natural erosion of the native granite, and he was killed by the same forces that gave birth to him. Death by natural causes at age approximately 10,000 is not a life cut tragically short.

In fact quite a lot of effort went into reinforcing and holding together the Old Man over the years, and what's left up there now are the cables and epoxy they tried to hold him together with. Few people have more contempt than I do for NH's unwillingness to spend public money on public needs and benefits, but that's not the cause of this loss. What caused this loss is ten thousand years of erosion and this past winter, which was unusually harsh.

Even who thought about for more than two seconds (which, of course, not everyone had any reason to do) knew that eventually, despite the best that human efforts could do, the Old Man was going to vanish, whether by slow erosion or sudden collapse.

And since what made the Old Man of the Mountain strange and wonderful was precisely the fact that it was a natural phenomenon, not a man-made one, I hope you're right, and that Gov. Benson and others will, once the shock is over, come to their senses and see that, whatever the technical feasibility, it's _impossible_ to rebuild the Old Man. A sculpture, however large, is not a natural phenomenon, and does not have the same meaning.

#19 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 04:29 PM:

Alan, I hit send before going back and getting the references I wanted to include, on the license plate thing. There's a story about the Supreme Court case upholding the right of motorists to cover up the motto at

The case is Wooley v. Maynard; it's old enough that it doesn't appear to be online anyplace free, but if you are sufficiently interested, it shouldn't be hard to find in book form in a good library.

#20 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 04:37 PM:

Elric: Speaking of comic book geeks, we were looking up pictures of the Old Man here at work, and came across this one:

To which my co-worker said, "It looks Hellboy."

Me: "It so totally is. It's Hellboy! Hellboy in the Mountain."

(For those who know not Hellboy, check out )

PS. Lis, I have your name. Or you have mine. Or something. :)

#21 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 08:22 PM:

IMO, NH reached its peak, culturally and economically, in about 1830. It's been in decline ever since.

And you would refer to what as evidence, please?

#22 ::: Swsh ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 11:25 PM:

Th mpt/sm-mpt mll twns.
Th Stt Lqr/Lttr Strs t th brdrs.
Th Hmptn tll bths.
Th mtrccl bkr wk t Lcn.
Frmr Sntr Rbrt Smth.
Nd g n?

#23 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2003, 05:12 AM:

And don't forget New Hampshire's own little Ken Lay, "Governor" Craig Benson.

#24 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2003, 07:39 AM:

Guys, you've got to stop this. I really hate being put in the position of defending Cow Hamster.

It's dishonest to talk about the mills that are gone without talking about the high-tech industry that's moved in.

I think NH's socialized liquor sales sit rather oddly with it's Sturdy Independent Republican Free Enterprise philosophy, but look at where the stores _really_ are: the tollbooths are beyond the major shopping destinations, when you're coming up from Massachusetts, and the liquor stores are on the other side of the tollbooths. By the time I'm passing the state liquor store on my way to work (I live over the border in Massachusetts), I'm less than ten minutes out of Concord. (Yes, I believe there's one in Salem, somewhere, but you have to go into Salem to find it; it's not sitting right there on the highway, like the stores beyond the tollbooths.) A glance at the state liquor outlet map will show that the distribution of state liquor stores tracks with the distribution of NH's own population.

The bikers--anytime you have that many of any group coming in together for a multi-day outdoor party, you'll have _some_ trouble, but generally, the bikers are friendlier and more likable than the people who use them as an excuse to look down on NH.

I have no defense to offer for former Senator Bob Smith, except to note that it is _former_ Senator, and he was unexpectedly good on environmental issues.

#25 ::: Swsh ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2003, 10:30 AM:

Hr r cpl f rlvnt lnks:

#26 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2003, 10:31 AM:

Good points, Lis.

#27 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2003, 11:16 AM:

The NH high-tech industry is going the way of the mills. I can't think of any large company that hasn't had layoffs, and small ones are closing. The problem's not quite as visible as in Massachusetts, because NH has no concentration like the 128 and 495 office park areas (both now full of "space for rent" signs), but things are not good. Even Benson's company, Enterasys (formerly Cabletron), is about a third the size of what it used to be.

#28 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2003, 01:04 PM:

Jon, clearly that makes NH different from every other place where high-tech is a big part of the economy. My point was that no, NH has not been withering away since the decline of the mills; like most places it had repeatedly reinvented itself. To talk about the history of the NH economy without mentioning high-tech is, simply, a lie. There's a lot going on in NH besides the cherry-picking of bad patches out of its history that seems to entertain you and Swoosh.

Swoosh, I'm not sure what the point of your links is supposed to be. There are people in NH unscrupulous enough to attempt to sell some of the pieces of the Old Man on eBay? In a world in which people in Texas were unscrupulous enough to try to sell pieces of the shuttle on eBay? I can't describe to you how shocked, shocked, I really am by this. And the second is just a columnist whom you must just love, with his assurances that he's not going to engage in the NH-bashing that his predecessor in that space did--near the tail of a column of NH-bashing.

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2003, 10:51 PM:

Sorry that took so long.

#30 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2003, 09:22 AM:

The face is not missing. I needed more rocks for my sand garden. Freight charges to Orlando were terrible.

#31 ::: Swoosh ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2003, 11:13 AM:

I seem to have been disemvoweled.
Doesn't change my attitude re: NH, tho.

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2003, 09:46 PM:

I didn't expect it would.

#33 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2003, 09:49 PM:

Hi Teresa,
I was wondering where you were.

Swoosh, as a drinker, I don't mind saying I give the old NH liquor store high marks. If through some strange chance you wander off 93 near route 112 in Woodstock (the other Woodstock), you might hang out at the Truant's Tavern for a while. There's also a nice bar at the Clamshell in Littleton (a great restaurant) further up 93.

#34 ::: Chris Hill ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 03:16 AM:

My wife and I were on our first ever visit to the 'States and this happened the day before we were due to arrive with our tour party in New Hampshire (at a hotel only a few miles away from the Old Man).

I can't help but feel it must be our fault somehow...

#35 ::: Sarah Prince ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2003, 06:08 PM:

I got my uncle, a NH legislator, going on the subject of the Old Man, and wrote about it on May 17th in

My mother's family has spent summers, and that uncle has been a year-rounder for a while, in Rumney near the Pemigewassett. To their bemusement it is now a world-famous rock-climbing venue.

#36 ::: clark ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 10:57 AM:


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