Every year, thousands of people worldwide flock to Nederland and celebrate the cryogenically maintained body of an 89-year-old Norwegian man, a.k.a. the frozen dead guy.
Bredo Morstoel died in Norway from a heart condition in 1989, and was immediately shipped off to a cryogenics institute in California. In 1993 he came to Nederland, where he remained under the surveillance of his daughter Aud Morstoel and grandson Trygve Bauge. Upon both of them being deported in the mid-’90s due to visa issues, Aud Morstoel went to local newspapers and made her father a celebrity.
In 2001 the Nederland Chamber of Commerce decided to celebrate the man who had brought them worldwide publicity and throw a festival in his honor.
“There was such a media blitz when they found the body, and someone in the Chamber said, ‘We are known for [being] the town with the frozen dead guy, we might as well run with it,’” says Amanda MacDonald, the event director. “It was some wacky, creative thinking.”
Since then, the winter festival has become a local and international favorite.
But, despite its popularity, the event’s future was in question last year when the Nederland Chamber of Commerce put the festival’s trademark on the market.
MacDonald came to the rescue and purchased the rights. She has lived in Nederland for 14 years, and has directed the festival in the past. She hopes to carry on the festival’s integrity by, for one, keeping it free.
“People thought I was crazy and said I should charge. But I didn’t want to charge because it’s such a cool festival, and I wanted the community to fully benefit,” she says.
This year’s event, being held March 2-4, will feature favorites like the polar plunge, coffin racing, a hearse parade and frozen salmon tossing. For those brave souls who want to take a peek at Grandpa Morstoel’s carcass, Bo “Ice Man” Shaffer provides tours of the Tuff Shed where his body lies. Also, there will be plenty of live music from bands like Mekanizm, Longest Day of the Year, Fried Grease, Jet Edison and Acoustic Mining Company. And for the first time on the FDGD schedule, there will be snow beach volleyball and the Newly Dead game, which quizzes couples on how well they know one another’s last wishes.
MacDonald’s intent is to only improve the festival, and hopefully fix some logistics.
“I don’t think I’m trying to change the flavor at all, I’m just trying to make it run smoother because of its scale,” she says.
Last year, she says, the festival attracted 15,000 patrons, which is more than 10 times the size of Nederland’s population. For those interested in coming to the festival, she suggests leaving very early, carpooling or taking the bus. And because of Nederland’s limited parking, she says to bring good walking shoes.
With all the excitement surrounding the festivities, people tend to forget the year-round upkeep that it takes to “maintain” the guest of honor. Among his tour guide duties, Shaffer is in charge of keeping Grandpa at the perfect temperature. Every month Shaffer hauls 1,600 pounds of dry ice, in 10-pound slabs, to pack around Grandpa’s sarcophagus, which is kept at a brisk minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Shaffer says he runs one of six cryogenic operations in the world — four in the U.S. and two in Russia — yet isn’t as respected as other operators.
“The biggest complaint from the, pardon the expression, ‘mainstream cryogenic community’ is that we use dry ice and not liquid nitrogen,” he says. “They call us a backyard operation, but we still maintain.”
Even though the festival seems to rejoice in death, Shaffer says FDGD actually does the opposite.
“It’s the Mardi Gras of the cryogenic community,” he says. “It’s a celebration of life because he wants to be reanimated, and we’re all here living and celebrating life.”