Some people say that there are two New Hampshires- North of the Notch and Below the Notch. The “Notch” referring to Franconia Notch… a narrow stretch of one lane highway on Interstate 93. I have allways lived “north of the Notch” which meant that whenever I really travelled anywhere as a child we’d have to drive through it.
I looked forward to one specific site on any drives south, right in “the Notch”. The Old Man of the Mountain. My brother and I would compete to see who could see it first. That great stone face would hide from us on foggy days and we’d feel so disappointed!
We never really stopped to view the Old Man. We kind of just passed it by, excited to see it in a silent nod to something that always was and we thought, always would be. Eventually, when I grew up and had my own children I’d pass it by with babies, then toddlers in the backseat. I would point it out to them and they’d seem interested.
One early morning in the Spring of 2003, we were on a road trip to see my then in-laws. The kids were 2 and 4 in the backseat. It was one of those foggy, deprivous days through the Notch. The Old Man of the Mountain was hidden, still deep in slumber from a long, cool Spring night. Or, so we thought. We went by and continued on our way to a fun day with my kids’ grandparents.
When the kids had had their fill of double stuff oreos, shopping, pizza and all of the other grandparent-induced spoiling, we packed them in the car to make the 2.5 hour journey back home. It was dark so we wouldn’t try to see the Old Man that night. As we came upon the Notch, something was different. There was a lot of traffic in what normally would have been a fairly quiet stretch of highway. And, then there were news vans. Reporters, photographers, people crying on the sides of the road.
The Old Man of the Mountain was gone.
He’d fallen. Crumbled. The Old man was piles of rock at the base of a faceless cliff. The quiet face I’d been waving to for over 20 years, the face I was excited to share with my kids and see them wave to for 20 more years… the Icon of my state, our great state of New Hampshire… was gone.
For a few years after the “Great Stone Face” came down we’d drive through, tell stories about seeing the face in the past and memories the site would invoke. But, we’d just keep driving. He’d cross our mind and we’d move on.
Yesterday, that all changed. We had to make the trip south to Concord for dentist appointments for all of the kids. Typically, we hit “The Notch” early in the morning on our way south and later at night on our trip back north. There’s nothing to see and no reason to stop. But, yesterday was different. We came back in the daylight, and the seven year old had to pee. “Now!” He couldn’t hold it and the safest pull off was at the former viewing site of the Old Man in the Mountain.
And, so he peed. And then I started to talk about the Old Man of the Mountain. I shared the stories. We started taking photographs. A nice elderly fisherman, preparing for his afternoon of fishing told us about the Old Man museum. The kids asked to go- and I realized that we’d almost forgotten about the Old Man. We’d given him up and let go of some of those mystical memories.
Of course we would go to the Old Man of the Mountain Museum!
All of those times that we just zoomed by, took it for granted flooded back to me. We had such a wonderful time exploring the historic site, the former home of the Old Man. We especially loved the Profile Plaza Memorial where you could visualize the face back on the Mountain where it belongs.
Video Scrapbook From Our Visit to the Old Man of the Mountain Plaza
History of the Old Man of the Mountain
- The Old Man of the Mountain, also known as the Great Stone Face or the Profile was a series of five granite cliff ledges on Cannon Mountain in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, United States, that, when viewed from the north, appeared to be the jagged profile of a face. The rock formation was 1,200 feet (370 m) above Profile Lake, and measured 40 feet (12 m) tall and 25 feet (7.6 m) wide. The site is located in the town of Franconia. The first recorded mention of the Old Man was in 1805. It collapsed on May 3, 2003.
- The formation was carved by glaciers and was first recorded as being discovered by a surveying team around 1805.
- The Old Man was famous largely because of statesman Daniel Webster, a New Hampshire native, who once wrote: “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 writer Nathaniel Hawthorne used the Old Man as inspiration for his short story “The Great Stone Face,” published in 1850.
- The profile has been New Hampshire’s state emblem since 1945. 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
s 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 Different Kind of Old Man Viewing
A Beautiful Ending to a Beautiful Day
The last photo opp was on a stretch of Route 115 in Jefferson, NH for a beautiful sunset at Scenic Vista lookout. My 14 year old is taking Photography and Graphic design courses in High School and is currently enrolled in Intro to Photography. My Mom gave him an early Christmas present- his own digital camera. He couldn’t wait to photograph the sunset. I, being that crazy photo journal every single moment mom, couldn’t wait to photograph him captuiring something so beautiful!