Frozen Dead Guy Days rises again

Nederland festival draws crowds to celebrate its frozen celebrity

Stephanie Riesco | Boulder Weekly

With the help of a beloved dead body, the town of Nederland will awaken once again from its cold slumber for the 12th annual Frozen Dead Guy Days.

The festival runs from March 8-10. From coffin races to a hearse parade, its festivities ensconce the entire mountain town in a celebration of everything macabre.

However, a few changes have recently befallen the event. Last year, Bo Schaffer resigned as caretaker for Bredo Morstoel, after working for 20 years to keep the famed frozen dead guy iced and cozy. Jane Curtis Gazit has since replaced him and will provide the body (aka Grandpa) with his 1,700 pounds of dry ice every month in his Tuff Shed.

At 89 years old in 1984, Morstoel died of a heart attack in his home country of Norway and was cryogenically frozen by his grandson, Trygve Bauge. Bauge moved him to Nederland in 1993 in the hopes of starting his own cryogenics company. Though Bauge and his mother were deported back to Norway, Morstoel kept his residence in Nederland under the care of Schaffer. It was only last year that a dispute over payment between Schaffer and Bauge led to Schaffer’s resignation.

Bauge has also expressed an interest in moving his grandfather’s body from Nederland to Michigan, though Morstoel will still be present at this year’s festival. Even if Morstoel’s living situation does change, Amanda MacDonald, the festival’s owner, says he will always be at the festival in spirit.

“He’ll be here for at least a little while longer,” MacDonald says. “But even if they were to move him, the festival would still go on. It’s bigger than the fourth of July, it’s its own holiday.”

This is MacDonald’s second year as the festival’s owner, after the Nederland Area Chamber of Commerce offered to sell the event, which draws 15,000 people over the course of a weekend to a town with a population of about 1,500. MacDonald, who has also been the event coordinator for four years, says her main priority has been to keep the festival the same.

“I must’ve slipped on some ice and banged my head,” MacDonald says, joking about the decision to buy the Frozen Dead Guy Days. “But I just had been the event coordinator in the past, and I didn’t want to see the event change. I wanted to maintain the format and still increase business during the slow time in Nederland.”

While MacDonald has stayed true to her vision for the festival, there have been a few small additions. In between screenings of the documentary Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed (made by Kathy and Robin Beeck, founders of the Boulder International Film Festival), clips of cryogenic scenes in movies like Sleeper or Star Wars will be shown. Gail Rubin emcees the film and clips, as well as a game called The Newly Dead Game that tests how well couples know each other’s last wishes. The Arizona resident and Certified Celebrant who helps pre-plan funeral services says she loves the event for humorously opening conversations about a morbid subject.

“So many people have this denial of death, and Frozen Dead Guy Days has people laughing in the face of death,” Rubin says. “It’s all a road we’re traveling down, so the sooner we can look at it with humor, the sooner we can start dealing with it.”

Other events include costume polar plunging, ice turkey bowling, a frozen salmon toss, and snowy beach volleyball. Billy’s Rock Billy and Gipsy Moon will be playing at the Blue Ball, in addition to a lineup of acts playing on two tent stages. MacDonald says one event in particular is always fun to watch.

“My favorite is the frozen t-shirt contest,” MacDonald says. “We’ve had bloody knuckles and everything when people try to get it on, and it’s like slow motion when people finally get it over their heads.”

Last year a day of the festival was affected by wind, and this year snow is forecasted. Though having a festival at this time of year may deter some people, MacDonald says that it’s worth the cold.

“Heck yeah it can be rugged and cold and icy and that’s a little bit of a challenge for people,” MacDonald says. “But it’s a fun story and a fun town and a great festival. We hope people will come.”

Frozen Dead Guy Days is free and open to the public with pricing for special individual events. Click here for the full schedule with pricing.