Tending Mercy’s Garden


Mercy’s Garden atop the Great Rock ~ Bath, NH

This article was first published in May 2008. ~ Ed.

BATH – The little story, simply told, is about a little girl who planted a little garden on top of a big rock a long time ago and the people who, more than two centuries later, continue to tend it.

Her name was Mercy Harriman and in 1767, the year she was 9-years-old, she filled her apron time and again that spring with dirt and carried it to the top of what is known as Great Rock.

“We understand that Mercy grew corn, pumpkin and cucumbers with seeds she found her mother’s trunk,” said William Scott, 78, who has tended Mercy’s garden for the past 30 years.

The Great Rock is a stone’s throw from the Ammonoosuc River, across an incredibly fertile hay field. Over the course of many years, Mercy’s garden has been enlarged, Scott said, but those who have kept it up have stayed true the first crops she planted there.

Time and the challenge of keeping up a garden on top of a rock accessible only by a wooden ladder could have made it a footnote in local history, but instead, the site and story of Mercy Harriman’s garden has made for a pleasant summer attraction in Bath.


Historic plaque

The Pine Grove Grange has maintained the garden since the 1930s and before that, the Hannah Morrill Whitcher Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in nearby Lisbon kept it up for some time. The chapter installed a plaque at the base of the rock, with the dates 1767-1928. The chapter closed at some point after that, Scott said, and the Grange took it over.

This year’s planting, as is the custom in the North Country, will take place soon after Memorial Day, when farmers are all but assured frosty nights are behind them for the next several months.

The harvest that comes from the garden is not much, but by mid-summer, Scott said, “There’s not enough room to walk around it without doing damage.” By then, the pumpkin vines have established and the corn heads skyward.


The way to Mercy’s Garden

The challenge is providing water throughout the hot summer months and Scott doesn’t mind a little help from visitors, who can borrow a watering can at the top of the path that leads to the garden.

When the cucumbers burst forth, Scott would rather see someone pick a couple and enjoy them, than have them go by.

“We encourage people to take stuff,” he said.

Mercy Harriman’s father, Jasiel, was one of the first settlers of Bath, in an era when the land was hardscrabble and those first residents needed to cultivate the land or lose title.
The family did not remain in Bath and instead settled across the Connecticut River in Vermont.

According to local history, Mercy Harriman grew up and met a man named Carr from Chester, Scott said. She was 40 at the time of her marriage and the couple ended up living in Corinth, Vt. She did not have children of her own, but did have stepchildren.

“I think she would think we’ve made rather a lot of her garden,” Scott said with a laugh.

A historic marker on Route 302 just west of Bath Village, where the Brick General Store is located, marks the site of the garden. Scott just last week set up the picnic tables there and put up freshly painted signs that point the short walk down a green path to the garden.

Visitors are invited to sign a guest book.

“We have people who come from all over the world and we have people who sign it two or three times a summer,” he said.

Like most of the familiar green historic markers that dot New Hampshire, there is not enough room to note much history in a particular locale.

But it gladdens Scott’s heart that the one in Bath remembers a little girl’s deed more than 200 years ago.

“Historical monuments usually deal with something truly amazing, but this one tells about a child’s imagining a garden,” he said.

As well as the garden, Scott maintains the footpath that leads to it. It is not a difficult walk, but sturdy shoes are suggested.

~ Lorna Colquhoun


Tales from the Border

Travelers from Chartierville, Que. had to pass through the border crossing at Pittsburg. For 35 years, they talked to Marty Hewson.

Travelers from Chartierville, Que. had to pass through the border crossing at Pittsburg. For 27 years, they talked to Marty Hewson before driving south.

This article was first published Jan. 11, 1995 edition of the New Hampshire Union Leader.

PITTSBURG – On the road to Canada, 12 miles past the last utility pole, 23 miles from the village and 74 miles from the last McDonald’s, the unplowed snow on U.S. Route 3 gives a clue as to what kind of day Marty Hewson was having.

Just one set of tractor trailer truck tires has cut through the powdery snow in the southbound lane; no one has traveled to the border since the last plow cleared the way a few hours ago.

“I’ve had a couple of snowmobiles, a pick-up truck and logging truck, which you must have passed, come through here today,” says Hewson, who has guarded New Hampshire’s only border crossing with Canada for more than a quarter of a century. “There aren’t a lot of people traveling today.”

Travelers leaving the U.S. over this remote and lonely border don’t have occasion to meet Hewson. It’s when they come back that they have to stop and for thousands of travelers over the past 27 years, it is Hewson who determines whether they are coming into the country within the legal limits.

But at the end of the month, Hewson is retiring from his position as a customs inspector at the top of the state. The calendar in his office, highlighted in yellow on the Jan. 31 date, says it all: “Adios, Amigos.”

Hewson came to Pittsburg in 1968, after transferring from the Border Patrol to immigration. When he took up duty at the station, the uniform he wore, which included a handgun, holster and Stetson hat, earned him the name ‘Cowboy’ among the locals down in the village of Chartierville.

“Along with that, I wore cowboy boots, which I wore when I was with the border patrol in Brownsville and El Paso,” he said. “Everyone wore them down there to keep the snakes from biting you at the ankle.”

For the most part, he said, he came to know most of the people who come through and for those he didn’t, he always had the time to make sure they were not smuggling guns, alcohol or people into America.

“Some people think that at a little place like this, no one will suspect anything, but we have more time at a place like this,” he said.

The mere isolation of the crossing has precluded a lot of important and headline grabbing busts, although Hewson had his share.

In the 1970s, he was kept busy looking for drugs in the cars of men and women who traveled to Canada, recalling those days with a grimace at the dirty bodies he had to search. More than 25 years of reading body language taught him who was hiding something and who was not.

Although passing through Pittsburg is the quickest route to reach Quebec City from Boston, there are no other major attractions nearby that would require someone crossing there. Hewson learned that simple questions about destinations told a story of their own.

“I had a van come through here a few years ago; the guy driving was alone,” Hewson recalled. “He said he was on his way to Waterville, Maine. Well, I thought to myself, that to get from Montreal to Waterville, you don’t come through here.”

Further questioning determined that the man was a mechanic who was on his way to Maine to help repair a transmission. But the van was devoid of tools, except for a screwdriver in the glove compartment and his hands were “as smooth as yours are right now.”

To further arouse Hewson’s suspicions, the man said he was planning on returning later that night.

“I told him it takes a lot longer to repair a transmission than an afternoon,” he said. “I gave him a two day pass and radioed the border patrol.”

A few miles down the road, the border patrol stopped the van and ound instead the driver and five Jamaicans, who had walked behind the border station while Hewson was questioning the driver. The Jamaicans were deported and the driver got himself some time at a federal prison.

Cross for the unknown traveler - Route 3, Pittsburg

Marty kept up the cross of the unknown traveler for years.

Another couple of visitors earned some prison time and a one-way ticket out of the country in an incident that stands out vividly in his mind, involving a Chinese woman in the trunk of a car.

“A car came over one day with a Chinese girl and two guys – one was a Greek from Billerica, Mass.,” he recalled. “They said they had spent a couple of nights in Montreal, but when I looked in the car, I didn’t see there was any luggage and I thought that was odd.”

So he had them get out of the car and set about doing an inspection of the vehicle. Eventually, he found a partition that had built into the back !of the car, cleverly camouflaged.

“I really had to look for it, but I got my finger in the crack of it and pulled and there was a woman in there,” he said. “I backed out and drew my gun.”

A search of the American man in the car yielded a loaded pistol in an ankle holster.

“I don’t know if he had planned to use it,” he said.

The woman in the trunk was deported; the others spent time at a federal prison. Ironically, had the woman stowed away in the trunk sought legal admittance into the country, it would have been Hewson who would have been reviewing her application, up until a couple of years ago.

“My job was to adjudicate applications from Chinese people who wanted to bring relatives over into this country,” he said. “I did that for 17 years.”

Up until two or three years ago, that was how Hewson passed time at the border station. He would review reams of information filed with the Immigration Department and ultimately decide situations, such as whether a family in Chinatown could bring a grandmother to this country.

“I got to know a lot of people one on one,” he said. “I used to give them my phone number so I could answer any questions they had. I got to know quite few Chinese people and for two years, my wife and I were invited to Boston to celebrate Chinese New Year’s. That’s how well I was known in Chinatown.”

But that aspect of his job was turned over to an adjudication center in St. Albans, Vt., leaving Hewson, at time, a lot of time on his hands. Regulations forbid television at the crossing station and although the Canadian customs is a stone’s throw away, visiting with that country’s border agents is out of the question, because neither side can leave their building.

Just after 1 p.m. this day, the first vehicle to come by in hours was a state truck who had plowed the last 12 miles of Route 3, stopping where it turned into Provincial Route 257. Hewson waved at the driver and waited for the next car or snowmobile to come through. Despite the seemingly slow pace, Hewson never yearned for an assignment at a busier port of call. He grew up in a small border town in upstate New York and when he was in the service, he was stationed for wo years in a remote area in British Columbia.

“Loneliness and isolation doesn’t bother me,” he said. “We had children and Pittsburg was a good place to raise them. If I want to go anywhere, I can get in my car and go.”

At 1:30 this day, two snowmobilers halt at the border station. They are a couple from Weare, who were up snowmobiling for the day, had lunch in Chartierville and were returning home. A short time after, two more snowmobilers from Moultonboro and Madame Landry from Chartierville pass through.

Hewson is regarded with affection down in the Quebec community of 250 that borders Pittsburg. When townspeople people put together a book to mark its 125th anniversary, they devoted a page to the border station and a picture of Hewson.

Over the years, he figures he has come to know most of the people in that community, as well as ‘regulars’ who’ve gone over the border to get things not readily available in this country. There are devotees of a curd cheese that squeaks when its eaten and is produced a few miles away and a couple from Bow, who periodically come north for a visit to a grocery store in La Petrie.

“The woman likes Red Rose tea and she can only get it up here,” he said.

And there are the Canadians who come in droves on spring and summer nights to watch the moose come out just down the road in the famed Moose Alley.

When Hewson locks the door of the border station for the final time at the end of the month, he will leave with no regrets. He and his wife plan to travel and spend winters in North Carolina. Summers he will spend doing some work for the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace down in Colebrook.

~Lorna Colquhoun

Cross for the unknown traveler - Route 3, Pittsburg

A Cross Remembers a Mysterious Traveler

(This article was published in the June 18, 2000 edition of the New Hampshire Sunday News.)

PITTSBURG, NH – The last few miles of the road to Canada are about the loneliest in New Hampshire.
It’s a dozen miles from the Second Connecticut Lake to the border, along a roadway that has no utility poles, no homes and very few travelers.

Benign on a sunny late spring day, Route 3, which cuts through thick evergreens before giving way to Route 253 and a breathtaking panorama of Quebec, is silent, punctuated only by sounds of the woods – a bird song and a breeze rustling through the trees.

Cross for the unknown traveler – Route 3, Pittsburg, NH

About 3 miles south of the border, there is a simple white cross bearing a weathered plaque at the roadside and it tells a tale of another time and a harsher season at the very top of the state.

A man was found here on May 10, 1940, a victim of exposure, since no open highway existed at this time …

Up until five years ago, Marty Hewson tended New Hampshire’s only border crossing to Canada. For 27 years, twice a day, he passed by the cross and heard the lore of the unknown man from old timers in the village of Chartierville, just over the border.

“He was an unknown person,” he said. “The old timers told me – and that would have been 32 years ago now – that he arrived in Chartierville on foot during the winter and that he was not well dressed.”

By 1940, New Hampshire’s border station had only been open for two years and it closed in the winter because plows did not run the gravel road 12 miles north of Second Lake.

In those days, Canadian customs was located in the home of the local inspector and the man, whom Hewson said he was told appeared to be a Native American, checked in there, using a false name, after making a stop at the Chartierville Hotel.

“The people there told him not go, that it would be miles before he would see a house, but he went on his way just the same,” Hewson said.

A man was found here …

Though unidentified, he entered the U.S. from Canada registering under an alias on February 22, 1940 …

By all accounts, it was cold that day, well below zero and deep snow had settled over the gravel road.

When the man set out into the snowy land, that is the last time anyone would see him for three months.

“He made it two and a half, three miles from the border,” Hewson said. “There were a couple of cabins at Third Lake and they said it looked like someone went in there and tried to start a fire,” Hewson said. “They thought it might have been him.”

In early May that year, the crew sent north to open the road found the man’s body and his description matched that of the stranger setting forth to Pittsburg three months earlier.

“He had no identification,” Hewson said. “He was unknown.”

The man was buried in a pauper’s grave in West Stewartstown, some miles to the south of the border.

To this day, no one knows who this man was, where he was from or going to, or if he left behind a family as puzzled by his disappearance as those were who found him.

These facts, though limited, were given with the help and consent of the Canadian authorities and selectmen of the township.

The late Louis Beauchemin was a supervisor on that road crew that found the stranger’s body and not long after that, Hewson said, he erected the cross at the spot where his body was found.

When Beauchemin died, Hewson assumed the upkeep of the cross, mowing the little plot by hand and brushing a weed whacker around it.

Six years ago, he made a new cross out of pressure treated lumber.

“It looked pretty bad,” he said. “I don’t know if the moose were rubbing against it or what.”

Last year, he gave it another coat of white paint.


Hewson collects the coins to give to charity.

Earlier this month, someone had stopped by the cross and placed a few dandelions on it. A quarter was tucked under the plaque.

“Somebody usually puts some artificial flowers there every year, but I haven’t seen them yet,” Hewson said.

He does not know who makes the pilgrimage to do that simple gesture, although he suspects it is a Massachusetts couple who once sent him a clipping about the cross.

In the summer, the cross gets its share of visitors, who leave wild flowers and money. Hewson collects the coins or bills and gives them to charity. He removes the plastic flowers before the first snow fall. The wild flowers wither and fade on their own.

“When I go up there and mow and whatever, I wonder about him,” Hewson said. “I wonder about what part of Quebec he was from, if he had family, if anyone missed him.”

~ Lorna Colquhoun

The Little Church in the Wildwood

(This article first appeared in the New Hampshire Sunday News on July 2, 2006.)

Chapel of St. John of the Mountains ~ Ellsworth

Chapel of St. John of the Mountains ~ Ellsworth

ELLSWORTH – When the last worshipper had departed this tiny church last December on the music of Christmas tidings, the candles were blown out, the few lights extinguished and the door closed tight against the winter and more than half a year.

Last week, an efficient little army of volunteers threw open the doors of the Chapel of St. John of the Mountains and assessed the interior, before rolling up shirt sleeves and making it ready for those who would make their way out of Campton and beyond, up Ellsworth Hill each summer Sunday.

“I don’t see any signs of mice,” one volunteer said.


Sermon ready

Like many small churches across New Hampshire, the little chapel off the beaten path in a small town that blooms in the summer is open for the season and for the next several months, pastors from away and those drawn to places that evoke a sense of the old fashioned will come here to sing, to worship and celebrate their spiritualness in a simple chapel that has been such a haven for more than 120 years.

“It used to be a Methodist church,” says the Rev. Ray Hahn of Campton, who, with his wife, Irene, helps look after the chapel and organizes its weekly sermons, delivered by a different pastor each week and of different denominations. ”They used to give directions up here – if you’re sure you’ve past it, you ain’t there yet.”

Tucked between Campton and Rumney, on the road to Stinson Lake (impassable during the winter), the chapel has survived the demise of two mills that once operated in Ellsworth, a population that once dwindled to three souls, a stint as a local headquarters for the Civilian Conservation Corps and a plan to turn it into a clubhouse. It is a testament to a man who so loved the church, that he bought it in 1940.

The Rev. Roger Pecke Cleveland, Hahn explained, used to summer in the area and developed a deep affection for the church.

“He bought it in 1940 and he served as pastor from 1940 to 1991,” he said.

It has always been a summer church and it has always drawn ministers and priests and a changing congregation that varies from 14 to over 40, a number that puts attendance just about at standing room only. Because Pecke owned it outright, it was independent from other churches.

“When we say we are interdenominational, we really mean it,” said Hahn, a cheerful man who has been a guest preacher 171 times, at churches from Los Angeles to Newfoundland. “This is my favorite – I just love this little chapel.”

Even as churches are closing around the country, Hahn said he like to think “that there are people who will go to another church.”

That’s why the Sunday service is at 3 p.m. every week, to give time for people to attend their own churches, and because the chapel is not dictated by any one church, there is no set dogma. It is, and always has been, a place of worship for anyone.


Volunteers working to open the chapel take a coffee break; from left, David Jacques, Peg Winton, Bing Rodgers and Marie Jacques.

Last week, an efficient little army of volunteers threw open the doors

As the morning and the cleaning efforts move along, the vacuum cleaner and the lawnmower hum loudly. The little church is filled with the more earthly scents of furniture polish and window cleaner.

In such a small space, everything has its place. The altar now free of dust, Hahn set up the candlesticks and the bible; a secret door on the front of the pulpit reveals other items tucked away for the winter for safekeeping.

Within its own history, the chapel keeps relics from other churches. The pulpit, with its shiny patina of age, was originally from France and found its way to the mountains after a fire destroyed a congregational church in Massachusetts. The organ was a gift from a Grafton, Mass., woman and it had belonged to a teacher.

The Vigil Light, legend has it, was presented by a Catholic from Germany and supposedly came via the last boat before the submarine barrier was imposed during World War II. The lectern and altar were made from the pilasters of the steeple from the Evangelical Congregational Church in Grafton, Mass., after it blew down in the 1938 hurricane.

The chapel is also the keeper of a French flag that had been hidden during the occupation of Dieppe and later presented to Cleveland.

Judy Rodgers married her husband in the little chapel 20 years ago and as she cleaned windows and replaced dozens of candles, she recalled the very simple reason why they did.

“This is just where we wanted to be married,” she said. “It’s an old country church and there is a uniqueness about it.”

Services are held every Sunday at 3 p.m. through Labor Day weekend and then on the first Sunday of October, November and December. The December service begins at 4 p.m. and is candlelit.

Today’s (guest preacher is the Rev. Steven Veinotte of the Campton Baptist Church and a chaplain with the New Hampshire Army National Guard and veterans of the armed services will be honored.

~ Lorna Colquhoun

The Day the Old Man Fell: ‘There is Emptiness and Devastation’

Lorna Colquhoun was the first reporter in Franconia Notch after the fall of the Old Man of the Mountain. Her report and photos appeared in the New Hampshire Sunday News on May 4, 2003.


Before the fall

FRANCONIA  – In the cover of darkness and a shroud of rain and fog, the Old Man of the Mountains gave up his stony, silent vigil as the beloved and venerable symbol of the Granite State sometime Friday night.

Just when the five huge rocks that formed a profile of a wizened old man, complete with a jutting chin and strong brow, fell from the perch where it has gazed southward for a millennia is not known. For the two previous days, Franconia Notch was doused with unrelenting spring rains, its upper elevations frosted when the temperature went below freezing.

But those are the elements that formed him some 25,000 years ago and which many thought he would weather for as long as they were around. Heartache, tears, sorrow and sadness were the order of the day yesterday, as people drove through the Notch, seeing for themselves that the mighty and indestructible profile of granite had indeed come down.

Amy Cyrs and Cynthia Savoy, who work just down the road at the Flume, were the first to make the heartbreaking discovery yesterday morning, while they were doing their daily check of the Notch’s waysides for trash.

“We pulled into the Old Man (northbound parking lot) and looked up – that’s the first thing we always do,” she said. “We looked up and he wasn’t

there. We did a side-step – we looked at each other. It was unreal – a strange and unreal feeling that something that has been there all your life is gone. I can’t believe it.”

The Old Man’s profile was made up of five ledges. According to state park information, three were anchored deep into the cliff, supporting two above it, and measured 40 feet from chin to forehead. It was formed during the last ice age, a natural sculpture shaped by wind, rain and frost.

The first photo taken the morning after the collapse.

The first photo taken the morning after the collapse.

Efforts have been ongoing for over a century to preserve it, but in the end, nature took its course.

“It’s hard to describe how it looks,” said Dick Hamilton, president of White Mountains Attractions in North Woodstock. “You can see dirt and debris in the places where he fell – there was a lot of dirt and debris in the cracks, most likely that happened before they started sealing it 10 or 15 years ago.”

Preservation of the Old Man began in earnest in the early 1900s. In 1915, a system of turnbuckles held the profile onto the side of Cannon Mountain. Yesterday morning, those turnbuckles dangled uselessly, bent and twisted from their last efforts to hang onto the Old Man.

Dick Hamilton reacts upon seeing the empty ledge.

Dick Hamilton reacts upon seeing the empty ledge.


“I’m not sure we’ll ever know” what caused the collapse of the profile, said David Nielsen, the caretaker of the Old Man. “It’s been a wet spring with heavy rains. The dirt in the cracks absorb water like a sponge – it’s a natural occurrence here.”

At 8:30 yesterday morning, the previous days’ heavy rainstorms gave way to a beautiful blue sky day. Few first noticed that the Old Man was gone. Vehicles continued to their north and southbound destinations, unaware. But as word spread, traffic increased, lines of it slowing down, their passengers gazing upward, before being moved along by police.

“I never thought I would see this in my lifetime,” said Francine Hilliard of North Woodstock, who came to the Notch to view the collapse. “You take something like this for granted, but right now, I feel like I’m in mourning. There are a lot of us who have lived and worked here and earned our wages off the back of the Old Man.”

George Bald, the commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, and Richard McLeod, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, headed up from the seacoast as soon as they heard. Both flew in a helicopter to view the damage.

“When we drove through the Notch, I didn’t look up,” Bald said. “I couldn’t look up. When (McLeod) called me, in my mind, I thought, ‘This is an awful cruel joke.’ But I knew from his voice that this had happened.”

Franconia Notch is the gem of the New Hampshire parks system. Millions come through it in all seasons to visit the Flume Gorge, to ski Cannon Mountain, view foliage and to see the natural and splendid wonder of the Old Man of the Mountains.

Thousands of visitors came to site to remember.

Thousands of visitors came to site to remember.

Winnie Bowersox of North Andover, Mass., was on a retreat to the White Mountains yesterday with a group of women from her bible class.

“I had never seen the Old Man and we thought we would take a ride through the Notch,” she said. “Our waitress at breakfast said that the Old Man had fallen – it was very tragic. I said that I had never gotten to see him. They said ‘You never will.”‘

Along with sadness, there was disbelief among those who had gathered to see what remained in the place of the Old Man.

“There is devastation and emptiness,” McLeod said. “Three cables are all that remains. It’s a sad feeling of emptiness – this is the symbol of our state. I had never thought about it (coming down), and I was hopeful it never would. We’ll deal with it. We’ll assess the situation and determine why it came down.”

From the air, he said, he was not able to distinguish any of the rocks from the formation from one another. The cliffs below where the chin was are scarred. Hamilton surmised that the rocks disintegrated.

More than just a formation of granite, the Old Man gave New Hampshire a sense of stability and solidness, particularly in the past couple of years, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and war.

“Day or night, I would always look at the Old Man,” Cyrs said. “Night or day, he’s always been there. Without fail, I have always said ‘Hi’ to him on my way to work or if I was going south, out of state. I would tell him to watch over everyone. It was a symbol and I felt better. Now that its gone, it’s left me feeling a little bit afraid.”

As the world changed around the Old Man, his presence was comforting.

“It’s always been there,” said Jayne O’Connor of Franconia, one of the first to see that it had collapsed. “I looked up there and said, ‘Oh my God.’ I feel a little less protected – a little less watched over.”

Hamilton, who has been at the helm of White Mountains Attractions, which promotes tourism in the region, for over 30 years, said he always spoke to the Old Man.

“When I would drive by on my way home from work, I’d always say ‘Goodnight, Boss,”‘ he said. “(Friday) night, I was on my way home and I couldn’t see him, so I said, ‘Goodnight, Boss, wherever you are.’ I never thought I would see this day.”

The Old Man was created by nature. There was sentiment among many that if its broken, why not just put it together again?

“How do you recreate a natural symbol?” Bald asked. “Nature made it and took it away. We need to take time and figure out how to deal with it. I will talk with the Speaker, the Senate president and the governor to figure out where to go from here.”

Bald said he expects to receive condolence cards, as Granite Staters struggle with how to deal with the loss of a state treasure.

“That’s exactly what it feels like – like you have just lost someone close,” Bald said.

June 5, 1944 – He was There

(This article was first published June 6, 2004. On June 3, 2014, a proclamation was issued by the Sugar Hill selectmen declaring July 4th as Roger Aldrich Day, in recognition of his devotion to his town, which helped found in 1962. — LJC)

SUGAR HILL – Roger Aldrich is in France today, a country that is grateful he was there 60 years ago.

If all went according to plan, he was on a special train at 5:30 this morning, full of fellow World War II veterans, bound for Normandy.

Yesterday afternoon, head high and full of memories of comrades who never made it home after the war, he received a Knight of the Legion of Honor, the most prestigious award France can bestow upon a man.

Roger Aldrich ~ Sugar Hill

“I am representing the people who can’t be there,” Aldrich said of the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. “This is not my medal. I did nothing but be there.”

He is one of 100 American veterans selected by the French government to receive its finest honor. In his own quiet way, Aldrich is proud to have been chosen and proud to carry the memory of the thousands who never grew old and who never knew the gratitude of the country they were fighting to save.

Aldrich, 81, grew up in Sugar Hill. After graduating from high school in Lisbon, he went to Northeastern University to study engineering, but a year later, with the war raging, he decided to enlist in the Army. He was 19.

“My high school physics teacher was an Army reservist,” Aldrich said. “He was Jerry Chase, who went on to become the president of UNH. He told me if I ever went into the Army, to look at topographical engineering. When I enlisted, that’s what I had in mind.”

He became a mapmaker and belonged to the 62nd Engineer Company, whose duty it was to survey battlegrounds and map them out.

In June of 1944, he was aboard a ship with 4,000 or 5,000 other men. He was an engineer replacement. Most of the engineers landed on D-Day.

“We missed it by this much,” he said, holding up a thumb and forefinger.

He recalled a delay in getting off the ship onto Normandy.

“There was a big storm on the 19th – we sat off shore at anchor,” he said.

Off all those on ship, it was this kid from Sugar Hill who wasn’t seasick.

On the 23rd, they landed on Omaha Beach. Aldrich was in a survey platoon.

“There were eight or 10 of us in the survey and we were up front every day,” he said. “We never had to shoot back, but we were shelled or bombed many times.”

The need for maps was still there and maps were drawn all the way to the Elbe River in Germany when the war ended, he said.

Aldrich has been back to Normandy three times.

“The first time I went back was in 1985,” he said. “It was very emotional.”

After 40 years, it was a trip that helped him heal. Like many soldiers, Aldrich never talked much about what he saw, what he felt or the close calls he had. Ten years after that journey, he wrote Soldiering Yesterday, about his Army experiences – all the three years and 14 days he spent in the military.

It was many years following his return home that he realized he had post traumatic stress syndrome.

“It was so severe that when I came home and went back to college, I couldn’t make it,” he said. “I couldn’t stand to be confined.”

He one day realized that root of it was “a fear of showing fear.”

His last trip to Normandy was in April and he was accompanied by his wife, Nancy, their daughter, Kathie Cote and grandson, Christopher. Christopher, who is 13, wrote a journal about the trip, which touched Aldrich.

In all his trips back to France, he has been treated with dignity and respect by the French people.

“I have never been back to France that the people haven’t come back and thanked me for being there in 1944,” he said. “One man told me that if (America) had not been there, he would be speaking German today.”

Aldrich, whose family has been in town since 1790, returned to Sugar Hill and never left. He married his wife, Nancy, in 1949 and worked for 20 years at a small print shop, before leaving to help his wife run the popular Polly’s Pancake Parlor, a landmark in the town. He also served as a selectman for 25 years, seeing the town through its separation from Lisbon in 1962.

“This is a once in a lifetime thing,” he said of his trip. “The French government is aware of this – we’re fast disappearing.”

By Lorna Colquhoun

May 27, 2004

The Old Man and the Irresistible Force of Geology

(This article appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader on May 6, 2003. LJC)

FRANCONIA – The headline was bold and it stretched across the front page of The New Hampshire Sunday News 45 years ago.

Old Man Doomed

An accompanying story carried the headline, “He Would Die Impressively but Dangerously.” A photo of the Great Stone Face was captioned, “Famous face to fall? Yes, say state engineers – the Old Man of the Mountain is doomed and no amount of costly engineering safeguards can prevent the ultimate calamity. It is only a question of time – and no man knows when.”

As prophetic as that news seems 45 years later, in the end, the Old Man of the Mountain, icon of the Granite State, did collapse, but without the fury detailed in the articles.

The day after the Old Man's collapse ~ 2003

The day after the Old Man’s collapse ~ 2003

The story, written by Sunday News writer George Woodbury, was based on an interview with Russell Tobey, the popular director of state parks in charge of preserving the profile at the time.

“Engineers studying the project have informed Mr. Tobey that the same forces of nature that carved the face on the cliff of Cannon Mountain are now irresistibly at work to destroy it,” the article reads. “It might happen this afternoon or many years hence.”

Scenarios for the Old Man’s demise included a slight earthquake that would set off a big slide, a dynamite explosion or sonic boom.

On the last day of the Old Man’s reign before he collapsed early Saturday, heavy rains pelted Franconia Notch and high winds blew through it. In the morning, frost dusted the higher elevations of the Notch.

“Such a disaster to the Old Man could cause an avalanche to sweep down through the Notch,” according to the article. “It would almost certainly result in obliteration of Profile Lake, state engineers feared.”

Landslides wrought havoc through the years in Franconia Notch and 50 years ago, they were of concern.

Landslides had been recorded in Franconia Notch since 1826 and in the 20th century, there were at least eight major slides, six of which crossed the road. In October 1938, 15 feet of debris slid over the highway. In June 1948, two slides on either end of Profile Lake came down within twenty minutes of one another.

A little over a year after this article appeared, the largest slide in modern times happened on Oct. 24, 1959. Some 200 feet of highway was covered to depth of 27 feet and required more than three days of around-the-clock work to clear it, according to historical information.

Robert Sullivan, an engineer with the state Department of Forestry and Recreation, told Woodbury how the collapse could cause an avalanche.

Whenever a talus slope of rubble builds up under crumbling cliff, such as under the profile … the fallen boulders come to rest at approximately an angle of 45 degrees,” according to the article. “Torrential rains may turn the underlying dirt to slippery mud and start a slide or a massive fall on top of the slope may start it rolling.”

Officials were concerned at how much damage would occur in the Notch after the fall of the profile.

“When and if the massive profile of the Old Man collapses, no one can accurately foresee the resultant damage to the Notch and the highway running through it,” according to the article. “However, officials say such a heavy fall as this might produce an avalanche of major proportions, even for the White Mountains where they have happened many times before.”

The Legislature that year set aside $25,000 “in an all out attempt to arrest disintegration slowly progressing every year through the action of frost and earth movement.”

“The best that engineering can do is postpone the day when the austere granite profile, so long a symbol of the state of New Hampshire and its people, will fall and ruin the Notch, Tobey asserts,” according to the article.

Sullivan agreed.

“There is no way of calculating how long we can delay the fall of the Old Man,” he told Woodbury. “There is absolutely no way of knowing. It can crash down at anytime.”

That year’s plans for the engineering program, according to the article, was for placement of a waterproof cap for the Old Man, “which, it is hoped, will further delay the hand of nature, which once, long ago, created this mammoth sculpture that now seems bent on its destruction.”

Tobey told Woodbury that the Old Man would one day collapse, in spite of efforts to save it.

“All the engineering skill in the world – and all the money – Mr. Tobey commented, cannot build back forever the irresistible force of geology with all the time eternity has its disposal,” Woodbury wrote.

He concluded his story with Daniel Webster’s verse about God Almighty hanging his sign in Franconia Notch that “he makes men.”

“Now we know, that some day and in spite of all our wealth and engineering skill, that Great Stone Sign will fall.”

By Lorna Colquhoun