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Guess what this weekend was? It was our annual excursion to ….. (drumroll please) ….. Frozen Dead Guy Days!!
This was Kelsea’s and my fourth foray into this festival of the intoxicated macabre. And this year, we took her uber-cool friend Will.
You may not be familiar with this event, which is now in its tenth year, but the legend (or fact, really) that inspired it is far older. Back in 1989, Grandpa Bredo Morstoel passed away in Norway. Instead of going underground as so many do when they pass, Grandpa took to the skies; his corpse, packed in dry ice, was flown across the pond to the US. After seeing California (as so many Norwegians want to do) and becoming cryogenically preserved (not quite as popular a tourist activity), he arrived in Colorado to wait out his fate in the company of his daughter and his grandson in the old mining town of Nederland, Colorado, just outside of Boulder.
Grandpa Bredo was kept quietly in a shed on his daughter’s property for a few years. He was a colorful piece of local lore. I recall hearing about him before he was famous, but no one was sure if the rumors were true. After he’d been resting comfortably for a couple of years, the proverbial S hit the proverbial F. Grandson Trygve found himself deported, and daughter Aud found herself evicted. And Grandpa found himself on his own, which is not a good position for a frozen old Norwegian in a Tuff Shed.
You must understand that the people of Nederland are a people apart. I love it up there. The townsfolk took Grandpa to their collective bosom. People stopped by the Tuff Shed where he was stored to tend to his dry ice needs. And they rallied the town council to – literally – grandfather – Grandpa into the town’s new law that prohibited keeping bodies on private property. I wonder if any other town has that regulation?
Grandpa’s plight garnered quite a bit of publicity on a worldwide scale. He has his own caretaker who, with the help of the ever-loyal townsfolk, keeps his body packed in a sarcophagus surrounded by 1600 pounds of dry ice. He’s been relocated from his original Tuff Shed, due to logistics and safety factors, to a larger unmarked storage facility up the mountain a bit. On occasion, guests can go up and see the shed, but not Grandpa Bredo himself.
Still, his share of fame grows yearly. He’s been the subject of two documentaries by the Beeck Sisters – “Grandpa’s In The Tuff Shed” and “Grandpa’s Still In The Tuff Shed”, and a book written by his caretaker Bo Shaeffer (aka The Iceman) called Colorado’s Iceman and the Story of the Frozen Dead Guy. There’s even a mystery set around the festival, which I have, but haven’t read yet, called One Too Many Frozen Dead Guys by Pamela Stockho. And there’s a song by T.D. Rafferty, most aptly named “The Frozen Dead Guy Song.” Both books and the song are available at trusty www.amazon.com.
Back to the festival! It’s become a packed event, which is good for the town’s small businesses, but it seems that as it grows, it becomes less and less quirky. Sad. However, the two-and-a-half day festival still consists of such unusual activities as:
- Parade of Hearses, which is exactly what it sounds like
- Polar Plunge, where participants in varying stages of costume or undress jump into a hole cut in the frozen lake
- Coffin Races, in which teams of people carry makeshift coffins through an obstacle course in the town playground
- Frozen Salmon Toss, where you see how far you – yes, YOU – can throw a frozen salmon
- Brain Freeze, an ice cream eating contest held in the middle of First Street
- Frozen Turkey Bowling, where you use frozen turkeys to knock down bowling pins (this is also commonly done in supermarkets late at night, and Australians use midgets instead of turkeys)
- Frozen T-Shirt Contest, where you must unfold a frozen T-shirt and put it on
- Rocky Mountain Oyster Eating Contest, in which you consume as many “prairie oysters” as possible
We arrived a tad bit late, just after the start of the parade. The parade is definitely my favorite part of the event. Several dozen hearses, most of them from the ’60s and ’70s, but the occasional entry from the ’40s and one even from prior to the 20th century, turn out to make a circle around the center of the little town.
Ghoulish participants were waving and throwing candy.
Small children hardly knew what to make of the event.
And really, who can blame them?
After the parade, we headed over to the Polar Plunge, which takes place in a little pond off the creek. Paramedics are handy by the ice hole to help plungers out if they have trouble.
We found a perfect spot on the edge of the ice. Nederland is a very dog-friendly town, and pooches were plentiful among the aspens.
Plungers weren’t as creative in their costumes or their approaches this year, which was a little disappointing. I had tried to talk Kelsea into jumping with me, but she said not until next year, since she’s not a strong swimmer and didn’t want to embarass herself in front of her beloved paramedics. But we had a grand time watching…
until the latecomers started just packing onto the ice in front of us so we couldn’t see anymore. How rude. In fact, my edit function was apparently set pretty low, as I was telling people in no uncertain terms to sit down. And I was wishing all the ice would just collapse, making the whole inconsiderate lot of them into unwilling plungers. The paparazzi really were testing the limits of ice gravity.
It had gotten REALLY chilly, so we headed to the bookstore/coffee shop to warm up. I love this little bookstore – it’s mostly used books, but they also have ice cream, a little clothing, a little jewelry, a Tarot card reader, and of course, chai, cocoa, lattes and etcetera.
And they have creepy stuffed squirrels bolted to their exterior walls.
We got coffee and brownies and found a little table in the children’s book room in the back.
The shop cat immediately came to say hello and Will decided he wanted to marry it.
Man, I don’t know what was in those brownies, considering there’s a “green wellness” clinic on either side of the bookstore, but we spent about two hours in silly hysterics, laughing and snorting and giggling at absolutely nothing. We poked around the bookstore, and fell more in love with the cat, who was now occupying the Tarot card table.
I chatted with a lady who teaches knitting and who had knit some amazing glow-in-the-dark skullcaps. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as glow-in-the-dark yarn.
(And as a lovely reminder of my last lovely weekend, there’s an Alpaca Store in Nederland where she gets her yarn.)
We spent so much time in the warmth and silliness of the bookstore that we missed the coffin races. Kelsea and I had seen them before, so we didn’t mind – the wind had picked up and we were all cold. Heading back into town through the little covered footbridge, we stopped in a couple of shops. Will and Kelsea parked themselves in rockers and pretended to be old people.
I took lots of artsy pictures.
And imagined decorating my new little house.
Emerging again into the chill, we discovered a mechanical bull set up outside the Pioneer Inn bar. Well, in my ongoing quest to try new things, I tried this new thing.
It was a lot harder than it looked and I don’t think I stayed on for 8 seconds. But Kelsea did quite well!
Our time was winding down. We passed the Brain Freeze contest, with very few participants.
And we passed more cute dogs (in trying to type ‘dogs’ just then, I typed ‘gods’ twice).
As our final excursion, we decided to walk out into the half-empty reservoir, something else I’ve always wanted to do. The reservoir is full to the brim in the summer, putting Boulder at risk of the imminent and overdue 100-year flood, which last occured in 1894.
But in the winter, it is a barren plain of rocks and dry earth.
The wind was absolutely vicious; we walked out as far as we could bear, then turned and made a run for the car. A real run, tears streaming down our faces and snot flying in the wind. By the time we got to the car, we sounded like we’d had strokes, we were so cold and our brains so bizarrely impacted by who knows what (wind? brownies? mechanical bulls?) that we could barely form words.
We happied our way down the mountain back to Boulder. That night, my eyes were still hurting from the grit and the wind, and Kelsea and I were exhausted from battling the breeze, the cold and the mud. But we had a wonderful time. Next year, maybe we’ll try tukey bowling and salmon throwing.
I think it’s great that even with dead guys, there’s always next year.