N.H.’s Old Man gets new life

An artist’s rendition of the planned memorial to the Old Man of the Mountain. An artist’s rendition of the planned memorial to the Old Man of the Mountain. (Old Man of The Mountain Legacy Fund)
By Marissa Lang
Globe Correspondent / June 24, 2010

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Don’t count the Old Man out just yet.

More than seven years after New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain fell off a cliff in Franconia Notch State Park, the state will break ground today on a memorial that they hope will revive interest and rouse memories of the lost symbol.

The memorial, designed to resemble the iconic rock formation of a man’s profile from certain angles, will be constructed in three phases. Organizers hope to have the first part completed by October and the rest of the project underway by next year, but a lagging economy and shortage of donors could delay progress. The final product will include two sculptures and a memorial gateway.

“We’re going to put you there, and you’ll see the Old Man in the Mountain’s profile right back up there on that cliff,’’ said Ron Magers, 69, a designer and engineer from Essex who created the multiphase project with his longtime partner, sculptor Shelly Bradbury.

The project, funded through private donations, has been a long time coming, said Dick Hamilton, president of Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund, which spearheaded the effort.

The face on the cliff collapsed on May 3, 2003.

Soon after, the question turned to what would replace or commemorate the formation so many had come to know and love.

Some proposed constructing a Mount Rushmore-like sculpture into the mountainside, but others dismissed the idea, Hamilton said.

“When the Old Man fell, we had about 3,000 condolence messages that came in from all over the world. Most everyone said, ‘Don’t put anything back on the mountain,’ ’’ he said. “They said, ‘Nature put him there, and nature took him away.’ They just wanted him remembered in some way.’’

The final design was selected from more than 30 submissions.

In the first phase of the project, seven stainless steel pillars with limbs jutting out at various angles will be erected in a semicircle overlooking Profile Lake, creating the image of the old face on the cliff when viewed from certain spots.

Part two, the most difficult and most expensive, will bring two-story monolithic granite stones, each weighing more than 136,000 pounds, together to form a structure that tourists can walk through, or look upon from a certain vantage point to recreate the face on the mountain.

The final stage, the gateway, will pay tribute to the people who fought to keep the stone structure intact for so many years.

The entranceway will incorporate turnbuckles that park workers used to brace the old mountain face before the collapse.

Fans of the original attraction say the memorial will help a new generation appreciate the Old Man.

Holly Head, 52, of Portsmouth, N.H., said she spent her childhood summers with the Old Man looking down at her. But her husband, Paul, who is from Chicago, and her two teenage children never had the chance to see the stone face before it crumbled.

“I grew up with it, but the three other most important people in my life have never seen it,’’ Head said. “It was so important to our state. We love the Old Man in the Mountain, and I would absolutely take my family [to the memorial] so I can say, ‘This is where he was. See? They’ve memorialized it.’ ’’

Marissa Lang can be reached at

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