Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What happened to the Old Man of the Mountain, and why can't they fix him?

Who's asking: Tom Ehrenfeld

The Old Man of the Mountain was a remarkable geological formation in New Hampshire's White Mountains, right off I-93. Five granite ledges combined to create the illusion of a man's profile. Settlers discovered the formation in 1805; in May 2003, after a series of brutal storms, the formation crumbled, obliterating the Old Man's forehead and nose. At the time, the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation blamed days of high winds, heavy rain, and freezing overnight temperatures.

The combination of rain and freezing temperatures is hard on stone structures of any kind. Water seeps into cracks and freezes overnight, causing breaks. (This is why outdoor statues in cold climates often get boxed up in the winter. When I visited St. Petersburg in December 1992, I couldn't understand why the Russians had chosen to decorate their parks with gray wooden crates.)

Anyway, a fund and task force now exist to explore ways to commemorate the Old Man of the Mountain, rather than try to restore it. Restoring it isn't really possible; the structure crumbled, and carving a statue in the granite wouldn't be the same thing at all. Recommendations for revitalizing the site include building a larger museum at the base of Cannon Mountain, creating a traveling exhibit, and installing high-tech viewers that would show what the formation used to look like.

Those who don't get to New Hampshire often can still see the Old Man of the Mountain on the back of the New Hampshire state quarter.

Dad and I visited the landmark on the back of the Maine quarter, the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, yesterday afternoon. I was hoping to see some seals, but no luck.


ptrb2541@aol.com said...

It is so sad. I grew up in the area and had been to see the Old Man on plenty of summer and fall trips. Are there pics of what it looks like now?

Spaceguru said...

Check on Wikipedia to see how the mountain looks now.