The Old Man and Me

Don’t hate me, but I was originally not that fond of the Old Man of the Mountain. I’m from out of state (ain’t we all?). Maybe that stony visage was just less endearing to someone whose formative outdoor experiences were not bracketed by drives past it

Rick 5x7300dpiBut sometime during the second half of my life so far, all spent as a Granite Stater, my heart has warmed considerably toward the Old Man — even in absentia. I think it might have something to do with getting “old” myself.

May 3 marks the 20th anniversary of that cloudy day when the old bones of stone finally gave way, reducing the Great Stone Face to a heap of gray rubble. I was at the annual conference of the City and Regional Magazine Association at the Hyatt Regency in Philadelphia that day, getting ready to go downstairs, when my wife called from New Hampshire and breathlessly asked if I’d heard the “news.”

“What? Did the Old Man fall off the mountain?” I asked with a chuckle. “Yes!” she replied. I turned on the hotel TV for confirmation, suddenly feeling a sense of irrational urgency with no appropriate response. Maybe I should catch a flight home? Instead I went down to join the line at the breakfast buffet. Surprisingly, other editors from far-flung states had already heard the news and expressed their sympathy to me.

So where were you when you learned? I bet, if you’re from here, you remember.

The best Old Man story I’ve heard so far came from Meg MacLeod, current resident of Franconia and the daughter of one of the founders of New Hampshire Profiles magazine — a predecessor to New Hampshire Magazine that filled a similar niche in the second half of the 20th century. Profiles is still so beloved by so many that when I get the occasional call from someone (usually quite old) confusing us with them (and usually seeking a specific story from the 1950s), I’m flattered.

In this case, Meg was neither old nor confused, but thought I might be interested to learn that the publishers of Profiles had, long ago, taken out an actual insurance policy on the Great Stone Face. Since that famous stone profile was part of that magazine’s logo, they felt a proprietary interest. Even then, the Old Man was on a shaky foundation, facing years of preservation efforts by careful maintenance and the addition of massive turnbuckles to keep everything in place. 

Meg explained that after getting Profiles magazine established, her dad, Art Moody, and partners had gone to Nashua’s Slawsby Insurance Company and purchased a policy through the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Co. Then some decades passed and things happened, including the demise of Profiles and the collapse of its symbol.

In a recent email to me, Meg wrote: “About a year after the Old Man collapsed in 2003, we were going through a box of my father’s and we found a press release sent to the Nashua Telegraph about the policy. We figured we would see if we could cash in on the demise of The Old Man. As you might imagine we ran into a lot of obstacles; insurance companies had changed or gone out of business. No one could find the actual policy, only the article and a picture of my dad holding it. Eventually we had to come to the conclusion that there would be no check in the mail!”

Of course, this is just one of many stories of how a prominent, local example of pareidolia (defined as “the tendency for perception to impose a meaningful interpretation on a nebulous stimulus, usually visual”) has gone on to influence and inspire so much emotional and intellectual activity.

I’m compiling the stories I know and some I’m still researching (like the Old Man Insurance Policy) for an online project that we’ll roll out before May 3 (recently voted into N.H. law as “Old Man of the Mountain Day”). And we had so many responses to our appeal to readers for suggestions for this issue’s “Best Places (Picked by Real People)” feature (see page 52) that I boldly invite you to submit your own best Old Man memories to me at

Categories: Editor’s Note