Colorado’s most celebrated Norwegian, long dead and frozen, can command a crowd even when his corpse isn’t present.
This weekend’s Frozen Dead Guy Days festival, newly moved from where it began in the mountain hamlet of Nederland to Estes Park, is expected to draw more than 12,000 revelers starting Friday. Visit Estes Park promoters said tickets required for access to activities are nearly sold out.
But the cryonics-preserved body of Norwegian grandfather Bredo Morstoel still sits in a Tuff Shed 40 miles away in Nederland — where the mayor and others don’t want to let it go.
That may change. Morstoel’s remains eventually must be moved to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, according to hotel owner John Cullen, who returned Tuesday from Norway following a second round of negotiations with Trygve Bauge, Morstoel’s grandson who in 1989 brought the body of his beloved, then recently deceased grandfather to America.
A deal in the works will transfer Morstoel from the Tuff Shed to a new facility next to the Stanley for long-term state-of-the-art preservation as part of a cryonics museum, Cullen told the Denver Post. Properly handling Morstoel requires professionals, he said.
“Right now, all we have got is the festival,” but a three-party deal should be signed within the next month, Cullen said. “Bredo the grandfather would have to be transferred into a liquid nitrogen system, as opposed to dry ice.”
Norwegian family members have financed the preservation of the body on their property at an elevation around 9,000 feet above sea level in Nederland for three decades, paying $1,000 a month for dry ice hauled from Denver by hired caretakers. The ice is packed into an insulated crypt in the stalwart gray, red-trimmed Tuff Shed, where a red-blue-and-white Norwegian flag droops Daliesque from the rafters. Their motivation: enabling cloning in the future as human technology advances to allow resurrection.
A raucous pre-Easter celebration created in Nederland became the Frozen Dead Guy Days festival in 2002. Owned by Nederland locals, it featured coffin races, a hearse parade, Bredo lookalike contests, and icy cold plunges. But, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival itself became a casualty, canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to public health concerns.
Barb Summers gets ready to throw a turkey at bowling pins as she takes part in frozen turkey bowling during Frozen Dead Guy Days on March 20, 2022, in Nederland. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Ice Sculptor Matt Ounsworth of Fort Collins carves a crane as one of his sculptures during Frozen Dead Guy Days on March 20, 2022, in Nederland. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Nicole Chlebek, of Denver, struggles to put on a frozen T-shirt during the frozen T-shirt contest where contestants had to be the first to put on a completely frozen t-shirt during Frozen Dead Guy Days on March 20, 2022, in Nederland. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Participants dive in for a Polar Plunge costume contest during Frozen Dead Guy Days on Saturday, March 9, 2019 in Nederland. (Photo by Chet Strange/Special to The Denver Post)
Contestants in the coffin races during Frozen Dead Guy Days on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Nederland. (Photo by Chet Strange/Special to The Denver Post)
Contestants in the coffin race walk through downtown during Frozen Dead Guy Days on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Nederland. (Photo by Chet Strange/Special to The Denver Post)
Crowds cheer on the participants of the coffin races during Frozen Dead Guy Days on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Nederland. (Photo by Chet Strange/Special to The Denver Post)
Reed McCoy, left, Micah Farfour, and Zach Gilula, of Team Akward, participate in the coffin parade during the 2018 Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland. (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)
The UC Health coffin racer team on Saturday during 2018 Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland. (Cliff Grassmick, Daily Camera)
Then, in 2022, an estimated 22,000 people, including scores who drove up from Denver, overwhelmed Nederland, which has fewer than 200 motel beds and a population of 1,523. Festival organizers, to prevent cancellation this year, sold the festival to Cullen, who has owned the historic 1909 Stanley Hotel since 1995, when he bought it from foreclosure for $3 million.
Nederland officials this week, unaware of Cullen’s overtures in Norway, expressed ambivalence about losing the festival to Estes Park, where industrial-scale tourism is a specialty, though they politely wished Estes Park good luck and pledged support.
“The void of there being no frozen dead guy festival here this year is undeniable,” Nederland Mayor Billy Giblin said in an interview.
Frozen Dead Guy Days worked as a “rough-around-the-edges” affair befitting Nederland’s freewheeling spirit, and this will change, Giblin said, in commercially oriented Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.
But keeping Morstoel’s body in Nederland matters far more than the festival, he said.
“The bigger loss would be losing Bredo,” Giblin said. “Bredo is the real deal.”
Not everyone in Nederland — where legal fights in the past and Bauge’s deportation in 1994 for overstaying his visa complicated storing the body — supports keeping it. “Some people believe he should be buried.. … But I, for one, would like to see Bredo kept in Nederland where his family brought him. Bredo is the myth and the mystery, while Frozen Dead Guy Days is the celebration of that myth and mystery,” the mayor said.
In Estes Park, Cullen bristled at the notion Morstoel might stay in Nederland.
“You cannot maintain that body without the massive expense of preserving it in a professional manner. It is just not sustainable. So, unless they are willing to cough up a lot of money, I don’t know how else that works,” he said.
The decision will be up to Trygve Bauge in Norway, all agreed.
And Bauge sent a message to Nederland last week that officials said leaves them hopeful.
Bauge wrote to say he is weighing options and that his priority is not the festival but preserving the body for the future, Giblin said.
Meanwhile, Cullen focused on historical nuances and connections ahead of the party.
An ice house built in 1914 about 150 feet from the hotel, used to store ice blocks cut from an adjacent lake, could become the facility used for preserving Morstoel’s body as part of a museum run by a national cryonics nonprofit, he said.
The cost of importing Frozen Dead Guy Days to the Stanley in Estes Park, and establishing a state-of-the-art cryonics facility wasn’t immediately available.
“What is being proposed there would be something unique,” American Cryonics Society president James Yount said, confirming talks toward a deal. About 425 bodies in the United States currently are being cryonically preserved, mostly in Michigan and Arizona, Yount said. And more than 4,000 Americans have made financial and legal arrangements for preservation after death.
“I paid a lot for the festival,” Cullen said. “The body won’t be cheap either.”
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