In 1886, a professor named C.H. Hitchcock urged travelers to hurry up and see The Old Man of the Mountain because he might crumble soon.
Hitchcock was quoted in a guidebook to the White Mountains, saying, “I would advise any persons who are anxious to see the Profile for themselves, to hasten to the spot, for fear of disappointment.”
The Old Man was a series of five granite ledges hanging precariously (it seemed) 1,200 feet above the floor of Franconia Notch. He measured 40 feet high from forehead to chin, and over the years he was held together by chains and patched up with cement, plastic, steel rods and turnbuckles.
Hitchcock was finally vindicated 117 years later, when the Old Man collapsed on May 3, 2003. The people of New Hampshire were so saddened by the loss they left flower tributes at the base of the mountain.
For nearly 200 years, the Old Man of the Mountain was a wondrous tourist attraction and a symbol in which New Hampshire took great pride.
New Hampshire native Daniel Webster perhaps best expressed what the Old Man represented: “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.”
New Hampshire had been a state for 17 years when The Old Man of the Mountain was ‘discovered’ in 1805 by two surveyors from Franconia, N.H., Luke Brooks and Francis Whitcomb.
They were working on the notch road, which farmers north of the notch used to go to markets in Portsmouth and Boston. It’s possible no one saw the Old Man because of the dense underbrush and tree branches that met overhead.
One day in June, Luke Brooks woke up in camp, went to Profile Lake (then Ferrin’s Pond) for water and saw the sun illuminate the granite face of the Old Man of the Mountain.
That, at least, is the most widely accepted story of how the Old Man first came to the white settlers’ attention.
With thanks to The White Mountains: Alps of New England by Randall H. Bennett.