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The Gone Stone Face

February 2024
1min read

NEW HAMPSHIRE’S OLD MAN IS RUBBLE, BUT OTHER STONE FACES REMAIN

When the rock formation known as the Old Man of the Mountain crumbled into rubble in New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch State Park this spring, the entire state went into mourning. How long the outcropping existed is unknown. It is mentioned in local Indian lore, though stories of Indians actually worshiping the face seem to have been exaggerations. The first recorded white men to see it were Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks, who spotted it in 1805 while surveying a road. As early as the 188Os the Appalachian Mountain Club reported that the face was slipping, a victim of the same natural forces—humidity and extremes of hot and cold—that had created it. In 1916 a Massachusetts quarryman named Edward H. Geddes spent eight days installing a system of adjustable steel cables to shore it up. Further supports were added in almost every subsequent decade.

As the years passed, the Old Man had more work done than an aging Hollywood actress. Vegetation was killed to improve the face’s appearance, and cracks were filled with a mixture of wire, epoxy, and fiberglass, to the point where one stern environmentalist recently scorned the site as “hyper-real” and compared it to “the badlands of Disneyland or the duplicate of the Lascaux caves.”

Despite all these efforts, an inspection revealed that by the time of the crash most of the rock between the face and the mountain had softened into dirt and gravel. In the end less than 25 percent of the face was firmly anchored, and it collapsed of its own weight. Such a fate was far from unexpected; the 1938 WPA Guide to New Hampshire said, “It is remarkable that these ledges have not long since crashed into the depths below.” (It also noted that “no scenic feature of the White Mountains is so much photographed by amateurs and with such disappointing results.”)

Yet all is not lost for lovers of stone faces. An exhaustive list at www.geocities.com/marmotamonax/Faces/Index.html gives information on hundreds of humanlike rock formations in the United States, some named generically (Profile Rock, Old Man of the Rocks, The Face in the Rock), some specifically (there are many Washingtons, including one Martha, as well as several Lincolns, a Webster, and even a JFK), and some whimsically, as in the Elvis-like Pompador Rock in California. Indian Rock is another popular name, and according to www.topowest.com , there are still at least a dozen geographical features in the United States called Negro Head—in poor taste by modern standards, though one suspects they used to be even more so.

Finally, in 1976 the Viking space probe took pictures of a rock formation on Mars that at sufficiently low resolution is said to resemble a human face. Is this proof that extraterrestrials with bad eyesight once visited Earth? You can decide for yourself. Although no package tours to the site are currently available, pictures of the face can be seen on thousands of Web sites, such as www.marsnews.com/focus/face , along with a variety of fanciful explanations for its existence.

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