Eight years after tumbling from his mountain perch, a grand plan to build a legacy to New Hampshire's iconic Old Man of the Mountain is taking shape.
The first phase of a memorial to the jagged granite profile that graces state license plates and road signs has been completed. But timing of the future phases is uncertain because donations have fallen far short of what's needed to finish the memorial.
For now, when viewed from the right angle, visitors to Franconia Notch State Park, located in the White Mountain National Forest, can "see" the Old Man's profile, in a sense.
Seven steel rods driven into a granite base hang over Profile Lake and point toward the cliff. Each has a series of irregular shapes on the side. When visitors position themselves correctly with the shapes, they can view an outline of the profile of a face in the same place where the Old Man existed for thousands of years, more than 1,000 feet above the lake.
Below the Profilers, in a plaza, workers are installing granite paving stones with donors' names and messages.
"Fallen Rock Star," "Miss You, Old Man," "Live, Love and Celebrate Life," and "Be Easy, Be Cool," are some of the notes to the Old Man, who fell 1,200 feet and crumbled to bits on May 3, 2003.
On Sunday, the plaza will be dedicated.
Eventually, five huge standing granite stones will be added to the park, that, when viewed in alignment, form the profile at about half the size of the naturally formed granite outcropping. But that will require much of the $3 million still needed to quarry, carve and transport 20-foot-high stones. A gateway honoring those who worked to preserve the Old Man also is to be built.
A March 2010 visitor analysis by the Institute for New Hampshire Studies at Plymouth State University said the memorial could draw an estimated 20,000 more visitors annually, with additional spending by these travelers of $1.7 million. Tourism is one of the state's biggest industries.
Dick Hamilton of Littleton, who has spent more than 50 years in the state's travel and tourism industry, is chairman of the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund. His paver says "Good Night Boss," which he used to say to the Old Man many nights driving home from work.
"It's been a frustrating process," Hamilton said of efforts to raise money and see the memorial progress. He blames the economy, which hasn't been kind to nonprofits.
Despite the delays, people still hold a place in their heart for the Old Man, including those who never saw him in person. A group of fifth-graders in Rye raised money for him by selling pet rocks, complete with pipe cleaners and googly eyes. A Nashville musician originally from New Hampshire wrote a song to him. And a woman in Tulsa, Okla., who also grew up in the Granite State has transformed the oak tree in her front yard, felled by an ice storm, into a wooden sculpture of the Old Man, with "Live Free or Die," the state motto.
"It's a very warm, happy childhood memory," Nanette Dye recalls of the Old Man. She and her seven siblings would stop and visit him on the way north to see family in Quebec. The first one who saw him "got to pick where we ate."
Hamilton is hopeful, too. He pointed out that during Memorial Day weekend, about 200 people visited each day, including a class of middle-school students from Japan who were touring New England.
"They wanted to come see what Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about," Hamilton said. Among his works was The Great Stone Face," an essay published in 1850.
For Sunday's plaza dedication, schoolchildren will sing a song to the Old Man first performed at the original dedication of the Franconia Notch State Park in 1928.
The ceremony will coincide with the "Watch Over Us" ride kicking off the 88th annual Laconia Motorcycle Week, one of several big motorcycle rallies across the country. Many law enforcement officers and veterans are expected to ride into the park, which was originally dedicated to volunteers.