Keeping cool

Nederland gears up for third annual Frozen Dead Guy Days

By Lisa Marshall, Camera Staff Writer
March 7, 2004

Teresa Warren was standing on a pier in Lake Powell in 1994 when she first learned that a “cryogenically frozen” corpse had been discovered in a shed back in her hometown of Nederland.

“We pulled up to get fuel somewhere and when I told someone where I was from, they said, ‘Hey, isn’t that where they just found that frozen dead guy?’”

When she returned home from vacation to find a parade of TV news vans in front of her antique store, she shook her head. With all the other attractive things her scenic mountain hamlet had to offer, “I was a little sad to see we were getting all this media coverage because of a frozen dead body,” Warren says.

A decade later, Bredo Morstoel, aka “Grandpa,” is still frozen, and the media hordes are poised to descend on the quiet mountain berg once more. But Warren, now president of the Nederland Chamber of Commerce, isn’t shaking her head anymore. Instead, she and other merchants are seeing dollar signs as the town’s third annual “Frozen Dead Guy Days” this weekend draws near.

Frozen Dead Guy hats, T-shirts, posters and postcards grace local storefronts. The hotels are booked. Restaurants are bracing for the busiest three days of the year. And the Tuff Shed where Grandpa rests has been freshly painted in anticipation of $25-a-pop champagne tours that include a peek inside the wooden box that holds his silver casket.

Organizers expect this year’s event (complete with coffin races, a frozen T-shirt contest and a grandpa look-alike contest) could draw up to 8,000 people — more than five times the town’s population — at a time of year when business historically has been quite grim. The fest already has graced the pages of the Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated and National Geographic. This year, a crew from the Game Show Network will be filming the bizarre happenings for an upcoming segment of its “Games Across America” show.

And it’s all happening with nary a penny spent on advertising, Warren says.

“It is absolutely a marketing coup for these guys,” observes Buddy Ketchner, partner and managing director of the Sterling-Rice group, a Boulder marketing firm. “If you think about the ways towns and cities try to market their offerings, it all gets to sounding the same really fast. I mean, how many Oktoberfests can you really have? Yes, it’s a little morbid. But it is just as quirky and distinctive and unique as Nederland is itself. That’s why it works.”

Go figure.

Back in 1994, when Nederland officials got word that two frozen bodies had been found in a broken-down wooden shed on Trygve Bauge’s windswept property, the term “marketing opportunity” did not come to mind.

It already was widely rumored that Bauge, a notoriously eccentric illegal alien, had an interest in “cryonics” — the freezing of dead people in hopes that later scientific advances might make their revival possible. But it wasn’t until a week after Bauge had been deported to Oslo, Norway, that local law enforcement folks took a peek inside his shed. There, in a 4-foot-high, thickly insulated wooden box, they found Bauge’s grandfather, Bredo Morstoel, resting in a stainless steel coffin packed in dry ice.

Morstoel apparently had died of a heart attack back in Norway five years earlier and his loving grandson had had his body frozen and, eventually, shipped to him for safekeeping.

When then Nederland mayor Bryan Brown learned of the discovery that day, he told the Daily Camera: “I feel like I’m in a David Lynch movie.”

And his reaction summed it up.

Even in an iconoclastic town like Ned, the thought of a Grandpopsicle in a nearby garden shed was unsettling, and local lawmakers hastily passed a law outlawing the storage of dead bodies on private property (it turned out, however, that Grandpa had to be Grandfathered in). Meanwhile, from Norway, Bauge threatened to “sue them until hell freezes over” if anyone tried to exhume Grandpa from his icy resting place.

Fast forward to 2002, and time had thawed local sentiments considerably. Taking a cue from the town of Fruita’s “Mike the Headless Chicken” celebration (honoring a fabled Western Slope chicken that survived years without a head), Nederland locals came up with an idea.

Frozen Dead Guy Days was born. And the rest is history.

“It’s like one of those things that never goes away, like a mole,” Warren says. “People now associated Nederland with a frozen dead guy, and we can’t make it disappear, so why not use it to create an economic opportunity for our town?”

Warren says proceeds from the last two Frozen Dead Guy days have helped the Chamber of Commerce hire a professional staff, and plans are in the works to develop a “more pedestrian-friendly” shopping district. (The Chamber could bring in as much as $30,000 if this year’s event goes off well, event organizers predict.)

For merchants, who often dread the windy, frigid days of winter, Frozen Grandpa has been a boon for business.

“Last year, it was my highest-grossing weekend of the entire year,” says Warren, owner of Off Her Rocker Antiques.

Adds Chad Jacobs, owner of the Acoustic Cafe, which will host this year’s “Brain Freeze” competition:

“It was by far the busiest day of the year,” for area restaurants. “We are realizing that people like to celebrate weird things.”

From Norway, Bauge has offered his full blessing, saying the fest is a fun way to honor Grandpa and a way to keep Colorado “a safe place for cryonics” in the future.

The prize for most creative way of capitalizing on a frozen dead guy in a shed has to go to Bo Shaffer, the long-time caretaker of the shed, and the esteemed guide of the champagne tours of Grandpa’s resting place.

For 10 years Shaffer, who lives in Longmont, has been paid $200 a trip by Bauge to drive a truck filled with dry ice up to Nederland once a month and gingerly pack it around Grandpa’s coffin. When the crummy old wooden shed began to blow apart, he worked with Tuff Shed (who kindly offered a new one) to install it. And earlier this week, he proudly watched as workers installed viewing stands for champagne tour participants who, under the glow of lamplight, want to “look in the box.”

They won’t see anything stomach-churning, Shaffer assures.

Just the old silver sarcophagus, some frozen cake from Grandpa’s “millennium birthday bash” in 2000, a cork from the inaugural champagne tour held last year, and a list of names of tourists who have, remarkably, shelled out $15 for a piece of the original wooden shed.

Explains Shaffer, tongue firmly implanted in cheek:

“That way, someday, when he wakes up, he will know who his supporters were.”

Contact Lisa Marshall at (303) 473-1357 or marshalll@dailycamera.com.




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