15 years ago on May 3, 2003……
Freezing and thawing opened fissures in the Old Man’s forehead. By the 1920s, the crack was wide enough to be mended with chains, and in 1957 the state legislature passed a $25,000 appropriation for a more elaborate weatherproofing, using 20 tons of fast-drying cement, plastic covering, and steel rods and turnbuckles, plus a concrete gutter to divert runoff from above. A team from the state highway and park divisions maintained the patchwork each summer.
Nevertheless, the formation collapsed to the ground between midnight and 2 a.m., May 3, 2003.
Dismay over the collapse was so great that people left flowers at the base of the cliffs in tribute.
Franconia Notch is a U-shaped valley that was shaped by glaciers. The Old Man formation was probably formed from freezing and thawing of water in cracks of the granite bedrock sometime after the retreat of glaciers 12,000 years ago. The formation was first noted in the records of a Franconia surveying team around 1805. Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks, part of the surveying team, were the first two to record observing the Old Man. The official state history says several groups of surveyors were working in the Franconia Notch area at the time and claimed credit for the discovery. The Old Man first became famous largely because of statesman Daniel Webster, a New Hampshire native, who once wrote:
“Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers 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.”
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