The Old Man on the Mountain

May 1, 2013 | By | 2 Comments

Editors Note: Pictured below is The Old Man on (or “of”) the Mountain, shortly before kablooing into thousands of tiny pieces as his very existence crumbled, trickled, and tumbled into the deep void that resides in our hearts. This post commemorates the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the untimely explosion of the Old Man. RIP Old man (beginning of time – May 3, 2003). We love you.


Shoe makers 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. – Daniel Webster

There were 3 things I always could count on as a kid:

1)   If I peed in the public pool nobody would know it was me.
2)  All my pencils would be lost by the end of each school day.
3)   If our family drove an hour and a half north, we would get to see the Old Man on the Mountain. We might even stop at the little candy store to buy some taffy.

Taffy is actually the first thing I ever bought in my life. My parents gave me money and I shyly went up to the counter to make my first purchase. What I didn’t realize is how exact change worked. I thought the cashier always gave the buyer money in return.


Maybe taffy is one of the reasons I loved seeing the Old Man so much. It wasn’t just about seeing the landmark. It was about everything that went along with it. It meant that our family was together for a special outing. Sometimes it meant that we were on our way to go camping and I might get to play ping-pong and possibly an arcade games at the camp rec room. It always meant that my father would go on and on about how glorious New Hampshire’s “White Mountains” are, in the same sort of way he always gushes about my mom’s cooking.

I always thought my father was a little too crazy over those mountains. Yeah, they were pretty. But they were nothing compared to taffy, ping-pong and candy. I couldn’t figure out what made them so special to him. Maybe I was just too used to all that beauty to pay it much attention.

Despite not being as taken by those mountains, there was always something about the Man on the Mountain that captured my imagination. It was just so cool that a mountain formation would be in the same shape as a man’s face. For a kid who never ran out of questions, this was almost too much to handle. There were things I just had to know, like who was this man on the mountain? Where did he come from? What did he represent? Why was he there?

Part of the reason the Old Man was so great was that he reminded me of a Church worship song my Dad always used to sing:

I hear a sound coming from the mountain,
I hear it louder each day.
I hear a sound coming from the mountain
And it says, “Prepare ye the way”
“Prepare ye the way, prepare ye the way, prepare ye the way of the Lord”.

I see the King standing on the mountain,
I see Him clearer each day.
I see the King standing on the mountain,
and He says, “Prepare ye the way.”
“Prepare ye the way, prepare ye the way, prepare ye the way of the Lord”.

As a six-year old boy, a man on the mountain that folks came from everywhere to admire and King on a mountain were basically the same thing.  In my imagination, the Old Man was the King on the mountain from my Dad’s song. Somehow, this rock in the shape of a man symbolized my own personal John the Baptist – a voice of one calling in the wilderness – “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him”.*

* * *

I had a hard time dealing with change as a kid. I hated it when we moved – even though it was into a much bigger house and only two blocks away. I was completely devastated by the death of my Grandfather. I had a hard time adjusting to how different life was at home after my older sister went to college. There was nothing I could do to stop the changes that were happening all around me. I was like a leaf swept up in rapids – always wishing to get further upstream and back to the way things used to be, but powerless to fight the tide of an ever-changing world.

The Old Man was an exception to the rule. Nothing ever changed up there in northern New Hampshire. Those mountains my father admired was I was a little boy were still there when I started to appreciate them more as a young man after attending an ugly college. Even the little shops stuck around. And, that Old Man on the mountain was always looking down on us. Not only was he looking down on us, he was looking down on me. He was a rock in every sense of the word – a steady thing in an unsteady world.

I was finishing my second year of graduate school when the Old Man collapsed. I was completely unprepared. There isn’t much precedent for a mountain that looks like a man. So, it’s not like I was ever expecting him to go away. I assumed he would continue to be there in the future, just like he had always been there in the past. But the man who had looked over us for so many years was gone. Like the real John the Baptist, he was beheaded. One of few constants in life was no more.

* * *

It’s amazing how important the Old Man was to the state of New Hampshire. I wrote in a previous post:

The most famous person from New Hampshire wasn’t even a person. It was a rock formation on a side of a mountain that looked like a man. Everyone was so excited about rock man, they put it on the license plates, driver’s license, interstate signs, state quarter, state documents and Lord knows what else. This was all well and good until he crumbled to his death back in 2003. The face of New Hampshire disappeared. Now, there is no face of New Hampshire… There is no identity. The only thing left is our state motto: “Live Free or Die”. It gives us a toughness. It makes us sound bad. We may have a lot of cows, but at least we know how to drive in the snow.

When the Old Man died, a major piece of our identity – a major piece of my identity as a kid from the Granite State –  died with him.

In the immediate aftermath, there was talk about what to do now that the Old Man had died. There was even talk of reconstructive surgery – a sort of nose job and resurrection for our fallen hero. Eventually, those talks died down. Now, there is just emptiness where the Old Man used to reside. The viewing area is still there. The place to pull off on the side of the road is still intact. But the main attraction is gone.


It has been 10 years since the old man crumbled. It almost feels like 20. Sometimes, it feels like these things that happened so long ago never happened at all.

Each time I’m up in Franconia Notch, I look to the old spot of the Old Man. These times, rather than view his dwelling place, I view his grave. I remember the crowds that gathered in awe to gaze upon the Old Man. I reflect on the curious little boy who still lives inside of me – always in need of assurance. Then, I think about the promise of the day all the longings in my heart will finally be satisfied. I remember that John the Baptist was not the final answer. He only pointed to what was to come.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

*Mark 1:3

For one of my conversations with a friend about the Old Man, go here.

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Category: Musings

Comments (2)

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  1. Chery says:

    This is beautifully written. Glad I stumbled upon it. Sending it to Jeff, who is also a big Old Man fan.

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