New Hampshire Missing Places: The Old Man of the Mountain

oldman of the mountain nh

Old Man of the Mountain “In Memoriam” from the 2003 Franconia NH Annual Report


He the eldest son of Time, has not changed in form or place since the floods retired.  Yet even he shall crumble away. But when the man of granite rock is dissolved, the men of granite soul shall stand “unhurt amid the war of elements, the wreck of matter, and the crash of worlds.”[1]

It was ten years ago [16 years ago in 2019], approximately on May 3rd, 2003, that the 40-foot tall face of the “Old Man of the Mountain,” located on Profile Mountain in Franconia, New Hampshire took its last ‘look.’ I say approximately, because according to the AP writer at the St. Alban’s Daily Messenger, the missing rock was first noticed on Saturday, May 3rd at 7:30, but for the previous two days clouds obscured the view, so it could possibly have fallen on either of those days.

Indeed it also might have fallen years earlier than it actually did, if not for the intervention of several dedicated people:

1. Reportedly it was members of the Appalachian Mountain Club that first discovered the Old Man’s forehead was slipping in 1872.  Though I could not find a news article for that year, the New Hampshire Sentinel, Keene NH,  dated17 November, 1881 ,Page 2, states:
“The ‘Old Man of the Mountain,’ the great stone face jutting out from one of the nearly perpendicular walls of Franconia Notch, is apparently doomed to a speedy destruction. A member of the Appalachian Club, who has made two visits to it, the second on the 17th ult., says the whole ledge is in a crumbling condition. A large fragment of rock which forms the upper part of the forehead has become separated from the cliff, and is now poised on the outer edge of the mass of rock upon which the forehead rests.  This gap has been slowly widening for years. Some fifteen or twenty feet back is a huge crevice.  This is filled with lose gravel and water, and the action of the frost the coming Winter, it is feared, will so jar the upper-forehead fragment, fifteen feet long and four or five feet in width and depth, that it will fall, and injure if not destroy the features below. To prevent this catastrophe means must be provided to carry off the water and gravel from the rear crevice, and it is thought that the small fissure may be prevented from widening by means of iron clams.  The proprietors of the Profile House, who are naturally solicitous to preserve this most attractive advertisement of the Notch, guarantee that everything which is feasible shall be done to save it before Winter sets in.”
2-4. Rev. Guy Roberts of Whitefield, New Hampshire. Sometimes called “The Valet of the Old Man of the Mountains,” Rev. Roberts noticed the eroding condition of the stone ‘face,’ bringing it to the attention of  Charles H. Greenleaf, then owner of the Profile House and the land near the stone profile.  They, in turn, brought it to the attention of then Governor Rolland H. Spaulding and his Council.  Rev. Roberts appeared before the Governor in August of 1916 with an appeal for funds to repair the problem.[2] After repairs were made, Rev. Roberts continued to trek to the profile for many years to “paint the rods with black asphaltum for preservation.” Notably, Rev. Roberts also was responsible for the research involved to locate and return “Old Peppersass” to New Hampshire.[3]
5-9.  Several additional trips were needed to rebuild a protective stone wall. All the materials… had to be carried up the mountain, carried on the backs of men. “five husky fellows from the hill town of Landaff, N.H. were secured to do the toting of sand, cement, water and equipment needed for the “operation.”  These were Carl Young, Robert Poore, Arthur Albee, Harry Hodge, Howard Bronson and the Rev. Guy Roberts, who was in charge of the affair and ‘chief surgeon’ for this important bit of ‘surgical’ work. The wall was thoroughly rebuilt and laid up in Lehigh Portland cement, after having been reinforced with wire mesh, and all well covered in, so that stones from it cannot hereafter be removed by thoughtless visitors. [4]
10.   Edward Geddes, a stone quarry-man from Quincy, Massachusetts who carried out the plans drawn up to keep the ‘Old Man’ from slipping further.  Despite harsh weather conditions, he finished the required work, injuring his hand in the process. [5]
11-12. Niels Nielsen, a N.H. State highway worker who became the unofficial guardian of the profile in 1965 and official caretaker in 1987.  In 1991 Niel’s son, David Nielsen, became the official caretaker.

The “Old Man” appeared on a three cent New Hampshire stamp issued in 1955.  According to the Trenton Evening News, another stamp “paying tribute to the bicentennial of NH in June of 1988 was based on an original painting by Thomas Szumowski of Waltham Mass. The craggy features of the state’s stone patriarch appear in varying shades of granite gray against a gradient blue background. Facing left atop a sloping ridge of dense, green foliage, the ‘Old Man’ looks over at the stamp’s denomination, 25 USA“.

Also in 1955, the Boston Tribune reports that President Eisenhower, during his tour of New Hampshire, in connection with its 150th anniversary celebration, was presented with “a small model” of the Old Man of the Mountain, plus “a silver bowl and ladle with the Old Man’s profile engraved on it. [6]

On 30 April 1961, a Boston Herald article, entitled “Seven Wonders of N.E. Only A Drive Away,” listed the Old Man of the Mountains as #3, just below Plymouth Rock [Mass] (#1) and Concord Bridge [Mass] (#2) and before Cadillac Mountain [Maine] (#4), Smuggler’s Notch [Vermont] (#5), Old Stone Mill [Newport RI] (#6) and Mark Twain House [Hartford CT](#7).

The “Old Man” is gone, but not forgotten. The Profile Plaza Memorial was recently completed in Franconia Notch, as a place for those with nostalgia or wanting to remember the Old Man’s former glory. But take heart profile seekers, for New Hampshire still has others, i.e., The Old Woman of the Notch (The Watcher),  Indian Head that overlooks Shadow Lake in Franconia Notch, and Ben Franklin Profile Rock at Doublehead Mountain in Jackson, NH.

If you want to see them, you’d better hurry up before they are gone.   A profile rock in Wentworth Shores  was destroyed by a road crew.


The Profile and How it Was Saved, pamphlet by Rev. Guy Roberts, 1917 – Internet Archive

-Stability and Collapse, Old Man of the Mountains, Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, by BRIAN K. FOWLER – [the Geological Society of America] – PDF

The Old Man of the Mountain and Old Mother Ann (1892), by Ada Chastina (Burpee) Bowles

Indian Prophecy, from 1925 Granite State Month

–   Mills Brothers – Music: “The Old Man Of The Mountain,” 1932 – from YouTube

[1] Article about New Hampshire’s “Old Man of the Mountain,” by editorial correspondence N.Y. Independent, as published 28 August 1854 in the Salem Register, Salem MA, page 1.
[2] “Valet of the Old Man of the Mountains,” Monday, September 2, 1929, Boston Herald, Boston MA, page 5.
[3] “Last Run of Old Peppersass,” July 29, 1929; The Mount Washington Cog Railway
[4] “The Old Man of the Mountain,” by Rev. Guy Roberts, Boston Herald, Boston MA; Monday, October 31, 1927, page 18.
[5] “NH Honors Old Man,” The Kansas City Star, 28 April 2013
[6] “Ike’s Comment Spurs Second Term Talk;” Boston Traveler, 24 June 1955, page 7.

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