Posted by: davepidgeon | April 29, 2009

Through the mountain glass

Now and again, if you hike long enough you come across someone who says with blissful nostalgia: “My parents used to take me up there to see the Old Man of the Mountain.”

They are referring to the naturally occurring rock formation that looked like a human face with a pointy chin gazing out across New Hampshire’s White Mountain region. The Old Man was an attraction, a curiosity, like the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming or Sedona’s red rocks, but what nature giveth nature also taketh away. The Old Man crashed to the floor of Franconia Notch in 2003, never to be seen again outside of grainy vacation photos.

Now comes this proposal, according to the Union Leader:

Francis D. Treves of Princeton, N.J., says a glass replica in the monument’s former place on the side of Cannon Mountain would not only be a tribute to its legacy, but also provide a new message and meaning for the ancient icon.

The image could redefine man’s relationship with technology and nature’s grandness in the 21st century. Treves says his proposed 45-foot glass likeness could also become a tourist attraction of the magnitude of the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Treves’ proposal is to re-create the Old Man with 250 glass panels that would allow visitors inside the structure.

What makes a thing legendary cannot be recreated whether by man or glass.

What made the Old Man unique is that – unlike the Statue of Liberty, Rushmore’s monument or the St. Louis Arch – the rock face was made by the oldest of architecture techniques – wind, water and time. To substitute what once was with a human-engineered glass replica strikes me as cheap and kitschy. A feat may be accomplished by screwing 250 glass panels to the mountainside and making it stick, but should you ever have the pleasure to hike up to and stand atop of Cannon or Lafayette or Lincoln mountains, you know the Whites don’t need anything more to enhance its idyllic attractiveness. 

But tourist industry types will continue to try. And instead of spending millions of dollars to acquire more land up there to preserve as wilderness, they will try to raise the money to slap glassware on rock.

They and Francis would be wise to keep in mind – and I repeat – what nature giveth nature taketh away. Weather has a funny way with such things. I say let Cannon be as it is and let nature find a new place to show us its face.



  1. I have to agree with you on that one. Man made things can be fun to see, but don’t try to replace something that was natural with something that isn’t. It would be cheap and tacky.

    • I’m afraid, however, that the almighty dollar tends to get the last word. In a faltering economy, any town needs to generate revenue. So if the Franconia Range can somehow build a tourism attraction, that would mean people coming and spending money in the shops, restaurants and hotels, which means sales tax revenue and jobs (i.e. income tax revenue) for the state and local region.

      • On the other hand, I believe Free Staters are sensible people.

  2. […] Compass Points–Through the mountain glass Share: […]

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