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EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — On May 3, 2003, the Old Man of the Mountain came tumbling down. Two decades later, his profile is still a symbol for New Hampshire and New England.

Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill Wednesday recognizing May 3 as Old Man of the Mountain Day.

“Seeing him in person, it’s like seeing a celebrity. He was definitely New Hampshire’s celebrity,” Justin White told 12 News Meteorologist T.J. Del Santo.

White is a videographer at 12 News, but well before he got into the news industry, he had a fascination with the Old Man of the Mountain. He has an extensive collection of Old Man memorabilia including license plates, bottle caps and glasses.

“My grandparents used to take us to New Hampshire every year, and we always stopped to see the Old Man,” White said.

Part of Justin White’s Old Man of the Mountain collection

He captured video from his numerous trips north from his childhood home in Rhode Island.

“I can remember the first time I saw it. I think I was 7 or 8. I remember looking up and thinking someone carved it. It looked like something like Mount Rushmore,” White recalled.

His grandfather told him that it was, in fact, naturally made.

“Being so young, it completely captured my imagination,” White added.

Old Man of the Mountain (Courtesy Justin White)

“The first time I saw the Old Man, I was probably 20 years old,” said Carol Pearlman of North Burwick, Maine.

Pearlman is originally from Woonsocket. We met her in Franconia Notch State Park.

“I took my two sons up. We had lunch, right here on his forehead,” Pearlman said. “It was amazing.”

Roughly 12,000 years ago, a glacier helped carve the profile into the side of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch. It was 40 feet tall and stood 1,200 feet above the lake below.

Crews worked for years to stabilize the profile with turnbuckles and sealants to keep the water out of the cracks.

“My heart just broke. It was devastating,” White said, looking back on the moment he learned the face had fallen.

Former site of the Old Man on the Mountain (April 2023)

After thousands of years looking out over the White Mountains, the Old Man crumbled onto the side of the mountain below, leaving generations of people saddened, as if they lost a friend.

“In a way, yeah, it was,” White said. “We’d stop to see it every time, so it was like visiting a relative or close friend.”

“I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think it would ever fall,” Pearlman said.

It’s believed that the freeze-thaw cycle lead to the Old Man’s demise.

Today, at the base of the mountain, there’s a park dedicated to the Old Man of the Mountain. Those who have laid eyes on him can reminisce about the experience, while those who haven’t can imagine what it was like.

To this day, New Hampshire’s state highway numbers are surrounded by the Old Man’s profile.

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