Caretakers of the Old Man of the Mountain
Since his discovery in 1805, the Old Man of the Mountain was the spirit of Franconia Notch and New Hampshire. Visited by everyone from poets to presidents to generations of families for whom a summer was not complete without going to the White Mountains and saying hi to him, he was familiar, comforting and inspiring. The five massive ledges that comprised the visage defied gravity, perhaps far longer than if he did not have the help of human hands, ingenuity and remarkable dedication.
Were it not for the intervention of a host of caring people that spanned more than 100 years, the Old Man would likely have long ago tumbled into Profile Lake long before it did.
It was the Appalachian Mountain Club that first discovered the Old Man’s forehead was slipping in 1872, but no one knew how to stop it. It would be another 40 years before the Rev. Guy Roberts and Quincy, Mass.-quarryman Edward Geddes devised a series of turnbuckles that anchored the slipping stone to the ledge.
In 1945, the Old Man became the official emblem of New Hampshire and 12 years later, the state legislature authorized a major expenditure to ensure that the Old Man could watch over the Granite State for generations to come.
By 1960, Niels Nielsen pictured to the right, aslo known as "Pop", rests atop the Old Man, one of his favorite past times. Niels was a bridge superintendent for the State of New Hampshire who had joined the inspection party and five years later was named the leader of the work party. In 1990 Niels was named the official caretaker of the profile he had come to love so much by Governor, John Sununu.
Each year for more than a quarter of a century, Nielsen, joined by son, David, in 1980, conducted yearly inspections of the Old Man. David was later named the official caretaker by Governor, Judd Gregg.
Beginning in 1972, those trips over the side of the profile included hundreds of gallons of epoxy used to seal the cracks in the granite, thus preventing damage caused by freeze and thaw cycles. A network of fiberglass sluiceways on top of the Old Man’s head channel water away from his face.
Those who took part in the annual inspection were volunteers, many who returned each July for what became known as the Old Man's shave and a haircut. In the photo to the right, Deb Nielsen is given a kiss from "Pop" Nielsen at the completion of her first trip over the face of the Old Man. Deb was the first woman in history to ever go over the side of the Old Man. In the photo on the left, Mike and David Nielsen work on the "sluiceway" in an effort to keep the water away from the cracks in the Old Man's head.
Until the mid-1980s, workers lugged several hundred pounds of materials and equipment about a mile down from the Cannon Mountain tramway. Then, Joe Brigham began flying workers and materials to a landing pad 500 feet above the forehead via helicopter.
Niels Nielsen often said that without the intervention of man, the Old Man would probably have tumbled some time ago. But thanks to a century of fierce dedication by generations of men and women - the caretakers - the Old Man's vigil watching over the Granite State lasted into the 21st century.