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Frozen Dead Guy Days: A Hot Street Party, Cold as Ice

Eric Mack

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Cryonics Parade
(Greenwithevil/Flickr)
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Overview of the Frozen Dead Guy Days festival
(Duzaster/YouTube)

Spring officially starts next week, but you wouldn't guess it if you looked around many parts of the country. In the little mountain town of Nederland, Colo., no one's complaining about the weather -- more ice and snow just helps preserve the town's number-one tourist attraction and annual event, Frozen Dead Guy Days.

The story behind this unique festival begins with a Norwegian immigrant named Trygve Bourge, who was well-known around Boulder and Nederland for his eccentric love of the cold. Local legend has it that he once broke a record by spending over an hour in a tub filled with icy water. Back in the 1980s, he started Boulder's Polar Bear Club with just three people.

Today, thousands of people are crowded around a tiny pond in Nederland, where Bourge's tradition of the Polar Bear Plunge continues during Frozen Dead Guy Days. Onlookers drive miles up winding mountain roads to come here and stand in a bitter cold wind to watch a string of locals jump through a big hole cut in the ice.

Bourge's friends say he believed the cold was key to living a long life. But nobody knew just how strongly he believed it until they met Bourge's grandfather, Bredo Morstel. It was during an interview with the local paper that Bourge's mother let grandpa's whereabouts slip.

"She began to worry out loud about something that just sounded sort of odd," recalls Boulder Daily Camera reporter Clay Evans in a documentary about the family. He says Bourge's mother, Aud, was concerned "that the bodies will melt." Evans says she went on to reveal that her father, Bredo Morstel, was in a shed behind the house.

When local authorities opened the shed, they found Grandpa Bredo in a metal coffin-like container packed with dry ice. He had died in Norway while back-country skiing in 1989. Shortly afterwards, his grandson, Bourge, had him frozen, packed in dry ice and brought to Nederland to be stored in the shed out back until the day when technology might be able to bring him back.

It wasn't until several years after the story broke that local resident Brent Warren came up with the idea to bring it back from the dead. He lobbied for an annual celebration of the town's most famous citizen.

"The town of Fruita, Colo., did a festival for Mike the Headless Chicken," explains Warren. "And if they could have fun doing something crazy like that, why couldn't we create something around our little fortunate event here?"

That's how Frozen Dead Guy Days was born back in 2001. But what about Grandpa Bredo? What are his chances of actually being thawed out and brought back one day?

"He was packed on dry ice and brought back here after he had been dead for a while, and that's not the ideal way to even start cryonic suspension," says Kennita Watson, founder of Go Cryo, a cryonics advocacy group based in California. She came to Nederland to take advantage of one of the few public events that promotes cryonics. She says the odds that Bredo will once again roam the earth are slim. "My personal opinion is that they're not very good, because dry ice isn't cold enough to stop deterioration like liquid nitrogen is."

Watson wants to be frozen herself, but she plans to do it the right way, starting with washing out all her blood with a kind of high tech anti-freeze, or "cryo-protectant."

"The cryo-protectant keeps your cells from freezing so that when you get colder and colder, it would be like molten glass hardening," she says. "And when you are warmed up then the cryo-protectant would be removed, blood would be put back in and they would proceed to cure whatever it was that got you in the first place."

It was heart failure that got Grandpa Bredo, and while science says hell might freeze over before Grandpa thaws out, people at Frozen Dead Guy Days are more focused on just having fun. After the Polar Bear Plunge, the crowd migrated to a nearby park for the annual main event, the Coffin Races.

One of the home teams from Nederland took home the top prize in the races, but as the sun began to set and temperatures dropped further in Nederland, the focus began to shift again. It was almost time for the pub crawl, and one last chance to drink a toast to Grandpa.

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