Some time during the night of May 2 or the wee hours of May 3, a piece of New Hampshire’s identity slipped away, leaving heartbroken Granite Staters with only memories.
The Old Man of the Mountain, a rock formation in Franconia Notch that had drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and whose profile graces license plates, the New Hampshire quarter and road signs, collapsed into a pile of granite rubble that night.
The loss of the Old Man is The Telegraph’s pick for the No. 1 story of 2003.
Two Franconia Notch State Park employees noticed the 40-foot-tall face was gone when they pulled off the northbound side of the highway onto the Old Man viewing area to do their usual morning trash cleanup at about 7:30 Saturday, May 3.
“I looked up and said, ‘Oh, my God, he’s gone!’ ” trail worker Amy Cyrs said at the time. “It was just a total shock. It was as if someone called you up and said your best friend just died.”
Cyrs moved side to side to make sure she was looking from the right angle. But the Old Man was gone.
Gov. Craig Benson was flown to Franconia Notch in a state police helicopter to view the damage and to speak at a news conference.
Benson said at the time that the face should be “revitalized” and formed a task force to examine how it should be done and planned to form a fund to take donations.
The collapse of the Old Man of the Mountain was an expected but unfortunate event, geologists said shortly after the collapse.
The chunks of Conway granite that ended up on the eastern slope of Cannon Mountain had been battered for centuries by wind and weather. As a result, natural fractures in the rock were made worse and worse.
State geologist David Wunsch said anytime a piece of rock is hanging out as the Old Man did, it is subject to additional stress. With the intense winter that came before the collapse, Wunsch theorized that the stronger-than-normal frosts may have stressed the rock more than usual.
“It could have been one year, it could have been 1,000 years, but it was going to come off,” Wunsch said.
The governor’s 12-person task force, headed by former Gov. Steve Merrill, studied the issue for months, and received thousands of responses suggesting what to do to commemorate the Old Man.
In the end, the commission recommended against rebuilding the stone face. Benson endorsed the recommendation and said the state would:
n Build walking paths and an expanded museum exhibit at the base of Cannon Mountain.
n Install viewfinders that recreate the image of the Old Man from roadside parking areas along Franconia Notch.
n Present awards annually on May 3 that feature the Old Man’s profile crafted in granite. The awards would be given to individuals, communities and organizations that have honored New Hampshire’s heritage or treasures.
n Create a traveling display to visit schools and libraries to teach about the geology and significance of the Old Man.
Benson said in November that the efforts will be paid for entirely with donations and proceeds from the sale of Old Man memorabilia, and no state funds would be used.