New Hampshire wonders what to do to memorialize its state symbol.

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – How do you memorialize a lost landmark?

That is what many are asking after the Old Man of the Mountain, perhaps the best-known symbol of New Hampshire, crumbled last week.

The consensus from poets to park officials is that while the craggy profile should not be forgotten, he should not be raised from the dead.

“I’ve got nothing against a memorial of some kind,” poet Donald Hall said. “But I think the ruin of the forehead and the face is its own memorial.”

The former New Hampshire poet laureate said the collapse surprised him, but did not really sadden him.

“I’m surprised that it doesn’t disturb me more than it does,” Hall said. “It’s not a personal matter. It’s a public matter.”

He said he believes the Old Man will remain one of the state’s important symbols even though its face is gone. The image adorns license plates, quarters, state highway road signs and other state items.

“I suspect it will remain the state’s image. Although the real thing is no longer there. I think we can keep it as a symbol of the state.

“It will reside in the imagination,” Hall said.

Poet Maxine Kumin, also a former laureate, believes everyone feels bereaved by the loss of the granite outcropping in Franconia Notch State Park, but thinks it’s ludicrous to restore it.

“Nature gives and then nature takes,” Kumin said.

She said the idea of a committee being formed by Gov. Craig Benson to figure out what to do upsets her more than the loss of the profile.

“The time and energy of the commission would be far better spent studying ways to restore funding to our schools, which are suffering terribly from the restrictive budget,” she said.

Kumin said there should be a plaque to memorialize the Old Man.

“It may be gone but it won’t be forgotten. In fact, it might acquire a larger mythic stance now that it’s gone,” she said.

Kumin says people should not forget about New Hampshire’s other natural attractions. “We’re very proud of our natural beauty … I think what we have from the notch on north is really unique. A very special part of New Hampshire and deserves a lot more attention than it gets.”

Benson said the members of the committee to memorialize the Old Man will be announced Tuesday. Former Gov. Steve Merrill will head the task force.

“Let the citizens and visitors … answer the question of how to immortalize it,” said Van McLeod, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Resources. “Once you start to ask people, ‘What’s your idea?’… we will gain an enormous amount of insight as to what the Old Man has meant to people for generations.”

McLeod said the Old Man’s collapse made him even happier that people had chosen it to grace the state’s quarter.

“I’ve just pulled one out of my pocket and I’m looking at it now,” McLeod said. “We’ve already memorialized it on this coin.”

Charlie Niebling, a senior director at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said the organization helped the government buy the land that encompasses the Old Man in the 1920s.

He was shocked by the news that the Old Man had fallen, but said nature was bound to bring him down eventually. Niebling said it will be a great challenge to come up with a way to memorialize the Old Man.

“There isn’t a person in the state that doesn’t look upon the Old Man with a certain awe and somber reflection of what the icon means,” Niebling said. “It’s going to be a challenging undertaking to find the proper way to pay tribute, but we’ll find a way.”

Niebling said the society does not want to see the Old Man reconstructed.

“There was a natural course of events that took him away, and trying to rebuild it does not make a great deal of sense,” he said. “The Old Man is going to live on in the history of the state. If anything, its diminishment will strengthen the icon.”

The Transportation Department reports that about 3.15 million drivers passed the profile in 2002.

Fay Dwyer has been managing the Beacon Resort, about eight miles from the Old Man, for 32 years. She says it feels like someone in the family has died and that she would like to see a memorial.

“Even if it was a garden with a plaque or something explaining his history in the area,” she said.

“I think you’re going to be seeing a lot of people come up to the area just to see where he was,” she said. “Nothing could ever take its place.”

Jewell Friedman, curator of the Franconia Heritage Museum, said there are mixed opinions on whether the Old Man should be replaced with a replica. She noted that many things in Franconia, from roads to schools, bear the name “profile.”

“It’s very important to the state. It’s especially important to the town of Franconia. We’re close to it and many people feel he’s part of the family. Many people speak to the Old Man when they drive through the notch,” she said.

AP-ES-05-05-03 1648EDT



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