The Old Man of the Mountain

US #1068 was issued for the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the formation.

On May 3, 2003, the Old Man of the Mountain rock formation in New Hampshire collapsed. 

The 40-foot-tall “face” in New Hampshire’s White Mountains was composed of Conway red granite.  Five ledges formed its appearance.  When lined up, these ledges gave the appearance of an old man looking to the east.  According to geologists, a combination of the glacial movement and the forces of seasonal freezing sculpted the face.  It is believed the “old man” had existed for as long as 10,000 years.

US #2047 from the Literary Arts Series.

Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks of the Franconia surveying team reportedly first discovered the formation in 1805.  It quickly became a major tourist attraction, in part due to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “The Great Stone Face,” which called it “a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness.”

Statesman Daniel Webster also contributed to it’s notoriety, saying of the formation,  “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.”  Over the years it was known by many names, including The Great Stone Face, the Profile, and The Old Man.

US #725 was issued for Webster’s 150th birthday.

In 1906, Reverend Guy Roberts of Massachusetts was among the first people to publicize the formation’s deterioration.  Over the years, the freezing and thawing of ice in the granite ridges combined with vibration from nearby traffic to open gaps in the figure’s forehead. 

US #2344 from the Bicentenary Statehood Series.

During the 1920s, the crack was contained by chains to prevent it from widening.  The state legislature later provided $25,000 to keep the formation intact.  Upkeep was performed every summer.  In 1945, the Stone Face was made the official state emblem of New Hampshire and would eventually be featured on the state’s license plate, state route signs, and quarter.

In spite of all the preservation efforts, the formation collapsed on May 3, 2003.  The people of New Hampshire were saddened by the loss of the Great Stone Face, leaving flowers at its base in memoriam.  Some people suggested adding the profile to the state flag.  Others proposed building a plastic replica, but this idea was rejected.  One year after the collapse, coin-operated viewfinders were installed, allowing visitors to see the cliff as it once was.  A state-sponsored memorial was begun in 2010.

US #1068 – Plate Block First Day Cover.
Item #CNNH25D – New Hampshire State Quarter from the Denver Mint.
Item #CNNH25P – New Hampshire State Quarter from the Philadelphia Mint.
Item #4568079 – New Hampshire Story Card featuring the state quarter.

Click here for a photo of the formation after its collapse.

Click here to read Hawthorne’s “The Great Stone Face.”

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks for memories. I remember seeing it first as a boy in the 1930s when my parents drove our 1929 Packard on a tour of New Hampshire. No Interstate Highways then. Just two-lane roads. But it was a famous stop for tourists.

    1. IT WAS OFTEN POINTED OUT TO US
      BY OUR PARENTS AD WE PASSED IT
      FOR SEVERAL VISITS TO RELATIVES
      LIVING IN PLYMOUTH NH in THE
      40’S AND 50’S BOTH WAYS,..WHO WOULD GUESS THAT IN 1960’S. MY
      HUSBAND AND I, BECAME A NEIGHBOR. OF THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN FOR ABOUT 50 YEARS..

  2. The new look shows me an even greater face. I think the part of the old face left on the mountain is now the hair of the head sticking out, and there is a long, almost aquiline, nose with an eye visible on the right side of it. The new anthropomorphic structure of this new face reminds me of Michelangelo’s fresco of Moses (found in the Sistine Chapel). Or perhaps Tolkien’s Gandalf.

  3. My husband and I were fortunate to see the Old Man of the Mountain the summer of 2002 on our first visit to New Hampshire. What a sight! Thanks, Mystic, for the wonderful write-up and reminder of our trip.

  4. While New Hampshire lost a “treasure” in 2003 the White Mountains are still a great place to visit and enjoy. Thanks Mystic for today’s article.

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