Thousands will visit this weekend’s party for all things deceased, inspired by the bizarre tale of a grandad cryogenically frozen alone in a Colorado shed
It may be the dead of winter and there’s more than a good chance of finding a frozen stiff, but that won’t deter thousands of festival-goers from celebrating life this weekend surrounded by corpses, coffins and all things deceased.
After all, this annual festival was inspired by a former Norwegian grandad who, by a bizarre twist of fate, ended up being cryogenically frozen alone in a shed in the US state of Colorado.
This icy resident was the inspiration for the three-day event which, from today, will see 20,000 people invade the town of Nederland. Population: 1,800.
And what do they do when they get there? They revel in the joy of being alive by acknowledging death in playing strange games and major partying.
“It’s like a weird mix of Halloween and the Winter Olympics,” says organiser Amanda MacDonald. “There is something very Monty Python about it isn’t there? Just the name – ‘The Frozen Dead Guy Days.’
“It’s certainly unique. The frozen turkey bowling is a firm favourite.
“One of the funniest things is the frozen T-shirt contest. The competitors get handed something as hard as a brick and they have to smash it up and get it on as quickly as possible. Some of them are bleeding by the end.”
Some of the activities are designed to test essential skills, like tossing frozen salmon, while others are all about showmanship – the fancy-dress dives into the icy plunge pool are a must-see.
Another favourite is the Newly Dead Game, a variation on the “Mr & Mrs” gameshow where contestants are tested on how much they know about their partners’ wishes once they’ve passed away.
In the hearse parade, contestants try to create the most imaginative decorations for these macabre vehicles. But the biggest draw is the coffin races, which involve teams carrying a passenger inside, well, a coffin.
“The teams usually come up with unusual fancy-dress themes,” says Amanda, “depending on what’s going on at the time. This year we’re expecting to see Trump appear quite a lot, but we hope not. We thought about doing a ‘Dunk Trump’ dunk tank but that’s not really what the festival’s about.
“It’s not about our differences, but what we have in common – and death’s gonna come to all of us, right? Death trumps everything.”
Even the controversial President can’t eclipse the star of this event – Bredo Morstøl, who was 89 when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1989.
His grandson, Trygve Bauge, was travelling in the US when he heard about the death. He’s a hippy and a strong believer in the science of cryogenics.
“The will to live is the very essence of life. If this is thwarted, we cannot be happy, we cannot be anything,” Trygve said. “This is the highest goal for any individual.”
So he asked his mother Aud to ship her father across the Atlantic on dry ice, before he was stored, from 1990 to 1993, at a cryogenics centre near San Francisco.
Mother and son then decided to build their own cryogenic chamber in the Colorado town, nestling high in the Rocky Mountains. As a summer destination for many hippies, Trygve, then 31, knew it well and thought it the perfect tranquil resting place.
Unfortunately, shortly after he built the chamber, Trygve was deported because he didn’t have a visa. Then his mother was evicted from her home. They had little choice but to leave Bredo behind.
The shack containing Bredo started to fall apart, but people in the surrounding area came to the rescue. A local Tuff Shed supplier gave him a new protective shell and a local man, ecologist Bo Shaffer kept it topped up with dry ice.
Around this time, the local Chamber of Commerce were trying to organise some kind of winter carnival.
“Then someone on the chamber said, ‘Well, we’re known as the town with the frozen dead guy, why don’t we just have The Frozen Dead Guy Festival?’”
The first took place in 2001 and they have gone from strength to strength. It is now a world-class music event in its own right. Last year saw the biggest bash, with 20,000 festival-goers.
Over the last 16 years a myth has grown that Trygve and Aud disapprove of the event, believing it to be in poor taste. But Amanda insists this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“In 2005 the chamber wrote to Aud and she came across and was actually marshall for one of the parades.” she says. “We’re also in touch with Trygve and he’s said he’d like us to restart the tours of the shed which were stopped for years.
“It’s not distasteful in any way. We don’t use Mr Morstøl’s name or his likeness. His story’s just the starting point for the festival.
“It’s about enjoying being alive by celebrating death.
“Importantly it’s also put the town on the map. Initially I think quite a few people were annoyed by being known for such a thing but in time it’s became a great way to keep the town’s businesses going during the winter months.”
There’s still the danger that Trygve, now 59, may still come back to collect his grandfather. So would Amanda, and the town he made famous, try to stop him?
“Definitely not, we’d have to respect his wishes,” she says. “But whether he’s still in the town or not, it doesn’t really matter too much, the festival’s really its own separate entity now.
“Besides it would just be a reason to have another big party, this time a farewell party. But we’d still being having the Frozen Dead Guy Days.”