FRANCONIA, N.H. (AP) – The Old Man of the Mountain was less than human, but somehow larger than life, according to a Wakefield, Mass., couple who said good-bye to him for the last time Saturday.

Paul and Fran Carbone spend nearly every weekend at their vacation home in Twin Mountain, about four miles from the spot where the granite profile looked out from a cliff top before tumbling down the mountain a week ago.

“There’s never been a weekend we haven’t waved goodbye to the Old Man on the way home,” Fran said during a Family Remembrance Day ceremony in Franconia Notch State Park.

“She rolls down the window and waves,” her husband said. “It may sound silly, but we’ve always thought of the Old Man as looking out for us as we drive home.”

Gov. Craig Benson, who had declared Saturday a “Family Remembrance Day” for the Old Man, said a task force he appointed would try to find a fitting way to memorialize the Old Man, who has served as the state symbol for decades, lending his profile to highway signs and license plates.

“The Old Man continues to look down on us, hoping that we will find a way to memorialize him that’s fitting. We will do that,” he said.

A color guard flanked a podium as Benson addressed the crowd of more than 500 people and a cow trucked in by the White Mountain Animal League. Bessie, a Holstein known to her owners as the Old Man of the Mountain cow, has a white patch in one of her black spots that resembles the Old Man.

David Nielsen, who succeeded his father in taking care of the Old Man, said they did everything they could to keep the granite ledges intact, epoxying cracks to keep water out and anchoring the rock ledges with cables and steel bars. But he knew the structure was precarious, he said.

“Every opportunity, when we found some type of problem, we tried to head it off,” he said.

At a 9 a.m. meeting of the Old Man of the Mountain Revitalization Task Force, Nielsen gave chairman Steve Merrill a petition signed by about 500 area residents asking that the mountain be left alone. Some people have suggested reconstructing the Old Man or reproducing his profile in plastic.

Nielsen, a member of the task force, did not sign the petition. But he said personally he does not favor a reproduction. Instead, he is leaning toward either a memorial near Profile Lake or an expanded visitor center at the park.

Park manager and patrol director Mike Pelchat told the task force that reconstructing the Old Man would be nearly impossible anyway, because the granite ledges that made up his face had broken into thousands of pieces.

State geologist David Wunsch also said a lot of the remaining rock on the cliff would have to be removed in order to get a structure stable enough to anchor a reproduction. That might not be acceptable to the public, he said.

A preliminary examination suggests the Old Man’s chin gave way first, Wunsch said. Once that support was gone, his nose and brow collapsed, Wunsch said.

A notch under the chin appeared to be the weak spot, Wunsch said. It may have been hiding a hairline crack that gave way with natural weathering. It’s also possible an April 2002 earthquake centered in New York State that measured 5.2 on the Richter scale contributed to the Old Man’s demise, he said.

Bob Potter, 72, of Gilmanton, was philosophical.

He said the Nielsens’ efforts probably kept the Old Man “alive” 25 years longer than nature would have.

Potter, whose grandparents used to split granite and whose son worked on the Old Man’s maintenance crew, had a chance to fly over the Old Man a few years ago and couldn’t believe the structure was stable.

“I told my son, ‘You’re taking an awful chance, working down there,” he said. “If they hadn’t tied it up there, it wouldn’t have stayed together.”

AP-ES-05-10-03 1537EDT



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