Guest Editorial: Rocks of Ages
In the three years since the Old Man of the Mountain fell from its high perch, its remains have rested nearly undisturbed in a massive granite heap at the southeast base of Cannon Mountain. The jagged ledge, still holding pieces of the profile, and the debris field below serve as solemn reminders of the state’s former natural treasure.
This fall, the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund, a non-profit independent organization appointed by the Governor’s office, plans to reveal its final design for the long-awaited memorial, chosen from hundreds of artists’ submissions nationwide. The completed project will be a sculpture on the shore of Profile Lake, says Maura Weston, chair of the project, and it will invite New Hampshire residents and tourists from around the world to honor the Great Stone Face.
The committee has no plans to incorporate the granite remains into its design, and the memorial will be a distance away from the Old Man’s former vantage. Although the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development collected most of the metal rods used to hold the formation together and the museum at Franconia Notch plans to put these objects on display, for the most part the site will remain undisturbed, says David Nielsen, museum board member and official caretaker of the Old Man since 1991. And, he says, this is exactly how it should remain.
“That debris field is as much a cemetery as any traditional cemetery that has a fence around it,” says Nielsen. His father, Niels F. F. Nielsen Jr., the first caretaker from 1965 to 1991, had some of his ashes buried in the left eye of the Old Man after his death. He now shares the debris field with his life’s work.
The instability of the debris site makes it a dangerous place to visit, says Nielsen. He discourages scavengers from picking through the rubble, recalling with disgust an incident several years ago, when granite pieces appeared for sale on eBay. “I’m probably one of the few people that could walk into that field and tell you which rocks were part of it,” he adds.
Once this generation passes, no one will be able to distinguish the rocks that once formed this venerated icon. This could be a tragic thought, considering that even a pauper is given at least a shallow grave and a wooden cross to mark his remains. But perhaps for the most famous face in New Hampshire, the massive sea of boulders, nearly as foreboding and rugged as the Old Man’s former home atop Cannon’s weathered cliff, will serve as a befitting final resting place.
— Jamie Griesbach
As much as I’d like to take credit for them, the words above were written by an intern who worked with us this summer. (We actually had two exceptional interns this year. The other was Emily Richardson.) I thought the contrast of a young voice contemplating the disposition of ancient rocks and long-held attachments was a suitable tribute to the Old Man in the days just before his memorial is dedicated. And it serves as a reminder that the future is in good hands.