Coffin fit: At Frozen Dead Guy Days, the star is on ice
Sunday, March 26, 2006
NEDERLAND, Colo. -- If you've ever heard of this Colorado mountain town, you've probably also heard about Grandpa Bredo Morstoel, better known as the "Frozen Dead Guy."
He doesn't do a whole lot -- just lies in a Tuff shed that's frequently packed with dry ice. But he's at the center of the morbid festival known as Frozen Dead Guy Days.
For three days, spectators who've traveled from around the state, or even farther, partake in lighthearted events including a hearse parade, a frozen pond dive, a frozen T-shirt contest and, yes, a Grandpa Bredo look-a-like contest. But the most anticipated moment, hands down, is the coffin races.
And like any visitor to Nederland, I wanted in.
Why, exactly, was I here celebrating a frozen dead guy?
The story starts something like this: In 1989, Grandpa Bredo died in his native Norway of a heart attack. His grandson had his body sent to California, where it was cryogenically frozen. After a few years, the grandson moved the body to the shed in Nederland, where the family owns a plot of land.
At first, the town didn't take too well to Grandpa Bredo. But starting five years ago, it decided to transform its quirky claim to fame into a draw for tourists.
It worked. Last year, about 3,000 people came to the Dead Guy Days.
Sure, there's a mansicle at the center of the festivities. But death is far from the minds of the people who flock to this town about 35 miles northwest of Denver.
Between festivals, teams of seven create "coffins" to race and develop strategies to traverse a tiny playground area. They're serious about winning the $300 grand prize. And while I didn't do any preparation, I still wanted that prize.
Grandpa Bredo must have been smiling on me on that cold, snowy day because there was a spare coffin that needed a rider. I gleefully volunteered myself, but when I saw the so-called "coffin," I began having serious doubts.
It hardly looked like a coffin: The thin wood was constructed into the shape of a fluffy, heavenly cloud and was lined with a cream satin.
"Is this sturdy?" I asked when I saw it.
And my team? Six men, all different heights and widths, were picked from the crowd to carry my living carcass.
But the race seemed simple enough: Carry coffin and rider up hill to long metal bar. Climb over metal bar. Head to jungle gym. Rider gets out of coffin and climbs over jungle gym. Rider meets team and re-boards coffin. Team heads to another hill back to starting line.
Sounded like a piece of cake. Our only strategy? Run like mad.
We started the two-team heat in the lead. But when we got to the metal pole, the guys slipped and dropped the cloud, with me inside. But it was OK, we were ahead.
We got to the jungle gym and I quickly hopped out to climb it and ride down the icy slide. It looked like we left the other team in the dust -- I could feel that money already.
But something went amiss, because when I came down the jungle gym slide, I was met by the other team. Play-by-play footage later revealed that the guys fumbled when they had to run around the coffin, switching positions.
We were neck-and-neck when I reboarded to hit the homestretch.
"We're still good, we're still good," I thought.
The next part, however, proved to be fatal. The front runners of our coffin slipped again while going up hill on the snow, sending it and rider, to the ground again. We picked ourselves up again and finished the race, not too far behind the other team.
So my team didn't win the cash prize; that's OK. It's just motivation for me to make my way back to Nederland next year with my own coffin and my own team.
Let's just hope Grandpa Bredo Morstoel will be on my side, too.