Editorial: The Old Man’s Immortality

Saturday, May 05, 2018

The Old Man of the Mountain crumbled to the earth 15 years ago last Thursday, or at least that’s what the calendar says. But the people of New Hampshire know better.

The Old Man hasn’t gone anywhere. To live here is to see him everywhere — on license plates and T-shirts, mugs and syrup bottles, quarters and key chains. The Great Stone Face is the most prolific pitchman New Hampshire has ever seen, and his demise has only enhanced his stature and influence.

We feel certain that even in a hundred years, when not a soul alive would have laid eyes on the actual Old Man, he will be as recognizable and ubiquitous as ever.

Yet somehow, despite overexposure on kitsch of all kinds, he has managed to retain his stoic dignity. Gravity may have won the battle, but it lost the war.

The reason for the Old Man’s lasting relevance isn’t universal. For some, he is a reminder of childhood vacations in the White Mountains; for others, he is the personification of the rugged individualism so much at the heart of New Hampshire politics, for better or worse.

Most importantly, for residents and itinerant sons and daughters all over the world, he represents home. As a symbol, then, the Old Man has proven his immortality.

But in considering the end of his physical existence, we began to think about other beloved natural wonders that have fallen prey to time. Just a few months after the Old Man fell, Yosemite’s celebrated Jeffery pine on Sentinel Dome (made famous by photographer Ansel Adams) came crashing down. In July 2005, one of the largest “apostles” in Australia’s Twelve Apostles Marine National Park crumbled, and now only seven of the offshore sea stacks remain. In November 2005, a cyclone toppled “God’s Finger” of Gran Canaria in Spain’s Canary Islands. A few years later, in August 2008, the 71-foot Wall Arch in Arches National Park in Utah fell. Elephant Rock on the shore of Canada’s Bay of Fundy, Malta’s Azure Window, the Hillary Step on Mount Everest — all are gone, all are mourned.

Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone, not even solid rock. As it turns out, the Old Man never left.

Natural symbols can be powerful things, more powerful than time or matter; sometimes, impermanence isn’t mandatory. The Old Man remains the face of New Hampshire not out of nostalgia or necessity, but because he transcended his rock formation long before May 3, 2003.

The Old Man is gone. Long live the Old Man.

Concord Monitor