Sunday, May 04, 2003

Old Man Down

NH landmark Old Man of the Mountain before and after the fall.

Living less than ten miles from the NH border, one sees the familiar outline everywhere. On road signs and license plates, postcards and flags since as long as anyone can remember, his rocky visage has been a useful symbol for the fierce, craggy independent spirit which gave rise to a state willing to actually use "Live Free or Die" as their motto.

And then yesterday, Franconia Notch park rangers looked up after several days of fog to see a crumbled rockface where once the proud lines and beaked nose of the Old Man of the Mountain once stood.

The Old Man will surely live on for a while through its ubiquitous iconography. ''The Great Stone Face'' immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne was surely not an unknown quanitity. But unlike the images on other state quarters -- like the Massachusetts Minuteman, or Helen Keller on the back of the Alabama Quarter -- the Old Man was not taught in history books, and an icon with no referent cannot last forever. New Hampshire will probably keep his image around for a while out of loyalty and rememberance, but one day something new will arise, and people will be ready to move on. Road signs will wear out and get replaced; license plates, too. Imagine if Old Faithful stopped spouting one day: how long until it faded from the cultural memory -- ten, twenty years? One day, the NH quarter will go out of circulation, and the Old Man of the Mountain will become but a historical footnote, a once-proud national landmark.

We'll miss you, old man. Somehow, The Old Pile of Rocks of the Mountain doesn't have the same ring to it.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:41 PM |

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