FRANCONIA, N.H. – About 200 people gathered Friday on the 10th anniversary of the Old Man of the Mountain’s fall, their faces turned upward toward the rock out of which his granite visage once jutted.
They were there for a ceremony in White Mountain National Forest: a moment of silence, messages from New Hampshire’s federal legislators and a short speech by state Sen. Jeff Woodburn.
But more importantly, they were there for the Old Man, in whose honor Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Executive Council declared May 3 “Old Man of the Mountain Remembrance Day.”
For many in the crowd who still look up at the now-empty rock face on Franconia Notch when they drive by, the Old Man is more than just a rock formation.
North Woodstock, N.H., couple Guy and Sherry Hoover were married on top of the Old Man’s forehead in 1987, and spent their anniversaries on top of the rock.
“When he came down it was like losing a member of the family,” Guy Hoover said.
The first reported sighting of the Old Man was in 1805. The New Hampshire Legislature adopted the image as the state emblem in 1945, and it adorns the state quarter, license plates and road signs. In the minds of many, the iconic visage represented the best qualities of New Hampshire and its people.
“Some say the Old Man was just a pile of rocks,” Cannon Mountain General Manager John Devivo said at the ceremony. “My answer is that he was our pile of rocks, and he defined our tough New England character to the world for some 200 years.”
Cindy Adams of North Attleboro, Mass., is a frequent visitor to Franconia Notch. Holding a portrait Friday in memory of the Old Man, Adams said the Notch is not the same without the craggy image. “He’ll be back,” she said. “He’s back in our heads. He’s just not here.”
The Old Man Legacy Fund hosted the ceremony at the memorial plaza it had built. The legacy fund had been trying to raise money for a multiphase memorial, but board member Dick Hamilton told The Associated Press fund-raising efforts have stalled and no more work will be done.