Ten years later, the Old Man still watches over their hearts
FRANCONIA NOTCH - In early May the shore of Profile Lake beside the Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza is usually a quiet place, but not so May 3.
On Friday, at the tribute to the Old Man on the 10th anniversary of his May 3, 2003 collapse, it was alive with about 350 people who buzzed around the plaza, catching up with friends, reading the names on the pavers and looking up at the mountain along the seven profilers to see the iconic figure back up on his perch.
Before the brief remarks and moment of silence that marked the anniversary, Sandy Hamilton of Littleton was helping Ann Farrelly of Concord find the right spot from which to view, while Jean Thompson of Littleton looked among the sun drenched pavers to find the one she'd bought to memorialize her late husband. He had, she explained, worked at Cannon Mountain for 40 years.
The Old Man of the Mountain was "born in fire and sculpted by ice," Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, said in remarks read by her staffer Brian Bresnahan.
Kuster wasn't alone in using more dynamic language in describing the Great Stone Face before he fell.
While most of the official words spoken at the event honored the "unique symbol of rugged character," as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said in remarks read by staffer Chuck Henderson, they also noted the geological forces that made, and took down, the seven blocks of Conway granite.
Shaheen called the Old Man, "a gift by accident of active frost wedging, and the relentless tug of gravity."
John DeVivo, general manager of Cannon and Franconia Notch State Park, said the Old Man was "one of America's most iconic symbols," and then said a lot has happened since 2003, with Cannon Mountain thriving again, and the park rated as the second best state park in the country. "We honor the Old Man by moving forward," Devivo said.
That moving forward includes the plaza, which several described as "elegant." The design and construction of the plaza was funded by private donations, Dick Hamilton, president of the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund, said, with the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development a crucial partner for nonmonetary help. Sen.Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, in remarks she sent via staffer Mike Scala, praised the hard work of the Legacy Fund and others.
District 1 state Sen. Jeff Woodburn noted that the Old Man's spirit lives on within the people of the North Country, who look to the landscape for inspiration.
"In the 10 years since gravity took its ultimate toll on the Old Man," Shaheen wrote, "New Hampshire has been fortunate that Dick Hamilton, a relatively young man, has worked tirelessly to make sure this important image lives on."
On Friday before the event, Hamilton reflected on the Old Man. "I'm delighted we were able to get this far. It's wonderful to see all the people." The Legacy Fund board has decided not to build out the next phase of the project.
The day before, Hamilton said, he had come down to the shores of Profile Lake and sat quietly for about 15 minutes.
"It's such a great spot," he said at the anniversary tribute. "It gets to you."
"This is something you can visit, and sit and reflect. This provides serenity," said Jayne O'Connor, president of White Mountain Attractions.
State Parks employee Darrell Dietlein said he was serving in the Navy and based in Maryland when he heard the Old Man fell. "That's one of the reasons that prompted us to move back here," he said. The Chichester native said that he grew up spending summers in northern New Hampshire.
"This," he said, "is home."