Trying to diagnose a person’s mental stability over the phone is difficult for even the most seasoned therapists. It’s near impossible for a journalist with nothing more than Psych 101 under his belt. Yet during an hour-long conversation with Trygve Bauge, I couldn’t help but to wonder about his sanity—or whether I had any business speculating. Since our international conversation (he was in Norway, enjoying the late afternoon, I was still groggy, trying to wake up at 7:30 on a Saturday morning without an Americano to aide me), friends have asked that same question: Is the man who left his frozen dead grandfather in a shack in Nederland with expectations that cryogenics could revive some sliver of him grounded in reality? Probably not.
But it’s hard to label the 50-year-old as crazy. Naive, eternal optimist, attention deficit man of the year candidate—those seem like much more apt descriptions.
While we talk, his rants dart from U.S. politics to worldwide disasters to why Ronald Regan was a great president. He thinks George Bush is an idiot and John McCain is the best candidate to take his place.
“Bio warfare, nuclear wars and pandemics are real threats that hang over us…I read the Declaration of Independence, and (the U.S. is) where I want to go. In the United States, you have basically seen a counter-revolution that has turned against what the Founding Fathers believed. …Maybe (cryogenics) could be a challenge for George W. Bush if he really wanted to improve his image.”
Getting him to talk about the topic of this story, the Frozen Dead Guy Days that celebrate a small town’s restless spirit, while mocking his abandoned cryogenic trials, is about as tough as finding anyone who believes Trygve’s Grandpa Bredo has any chance of coming back to life after nearly two decades on dry ice in Nederland.
“I would say it doesn’t worry me either way,” he says, laughing at the notion the three-day festival (March 7-9) that attracts thousands trivializes him. “I am preoccupied in things much more important.”
Those more important things include pondering catastrophic dangers such as a meteorite barreling into Norway, a supervolcano blowing its top or a nuclear attack from a crazed terrorist group.
Trygve’s mind is always churning solutions for saving millions of lives if one of these seemingly far-fetched worst-case scenarios comes true. He spends three days a week drawing diagrams of tunnels and underground boroughs that will save the millions of people who call his native Norway home when one of this Armageddon-like events inevitably happens.
It doesn’t appear anyone is paying him for these services. He doesn’t seem to care.
Those who know him well could probably guess that he has hundreds, if not thousands, of pages scrawled with designs for these living pods. At his abandoned home in Nederland, there are still trunks full of similar diagrams, depicting his plans for a cryogenics lab and health spa.
“He does have some good ideas—sometimes,” says Bo Shaffer, the man Trygve pays to pack Grandpa’s casket with dry ice. “He’s a wacko, but he’s the most sincere wacko I’ve ever seen. He’s smarter than your average bear. He’s just very inept at implementing the things he does.”
That picture Shaffer painted gets clearer during my conversation with Trygve.
“Nukes, tornados…these are things that don’t happen every day, every year or even every century,” Trygve continues. “My concern is that these threats are real…It’s important to have (shelters) in place.”
To think, this is the man who may have saved Nederland’s struggling economy.
If you’ve never been to Nederland, you’re missing out on one of the truly unique Colorado gems. Developed around tungsten and gold mining, the town incorporated in 1874. It boasts about 1,500 mostly colorful residents just 18 miles west of Boulder and some 3,000 feet above—it has become a haven for artists, hippies and those who just plain don’t like big-city Boulder living.
“We attract eclectic, eccentric people,” says Teresa Warren, Frozen Dead Guy Days organizer and 23-year resident. “You’ve got to be eclectic and eccentric to plan a frozen dead guy festival.”
The one thing that was missing from it was a vibrant economy. Sure, Eldora Ski Area is there, Peak to Peak Scenic Byway views are epic, and the dusty mountain town has a reputation for being home to some of the best live music around. But the harsh weather in the winter and windy road to Boulder have hampered it from being consistently on the radar for tourists.
“The people who have business here—we’re all crazy,” says Warren, who owns Off Her Rocker Antiques in the heart of town. “It shows how much we hate Boulder, or what it stands for.”
Although commerce may never bustle like Boulder year round, once word leaked that there was a frozen dead guy (two actually) being stored in a rickety ol’ shed in the hills above town, a 14-year tourism boom began.
The story starts in 1990, when Bredo Morstoel died peacefully in his sleep after a day of Nordic skiing at the family’s Norwegian ski chalet.
Trygve, a long believer that ice bathing increases longevity and cryogenic science has its place in the world, took control of Bredo’s destiny. Shortly after, Bredo was shipped to California to be cryogenically frozen by lab professionals. That’s when the trek to Nederland began.
For the next few years, whispers much too faint to break through the cold Nederland air circulated about the frozen bodies up in the hills. Meanwhile, Trygve was busy prancing around town, starting a polar bear plunge and working himself into the funky mountain community.
There was one problem: Trygve didn’t have any documentation such as a Green Card—borders never meant much to him. You could label him a Libertarian, although it seems the more you talk to him the less likely it appears he’s anything short of
“He just thought laws were kind of stupid,” says Clay Evans, the Daily Camera reporter who broke the story and covered Trygve often in the early 1990s.
“‘We don’t really need rules, let’s just do what we want,’” Evans remembers him saying. “He just thought he was so great. He was out-running the I.N.S., outwitting them.” That only lasted a little while. I.N.S. agents finally tired of Trygve flaunting his illegal status and deported him in 1994.
His mother, Aud, was left with a half-finished home with plumbing running nowhere, bare supports and a rickety ladder serving as its staircase—Trygve had never bothered for a certificate of occupancy.
Aud went to the town board to get that approval, but the Trygve-built home somehow misses on almost every modern design standard despite being basically bomb proof with its 18-inch concrete walls.
Needless to say, the town scoffed at the idea. When Aud realized she wasn’t going to get her approval, she asked an editor of the Mountain Ear, “What about the bodies?”
Yep, there were two frozen dead bodies—Big Al Campbell (Trygve’s first paying cryogenic client) and Bredo—awaiting the technology to revive them. Within 24 hours, Evans had penned a story about the cryogenic attempt in a ramshackle shack in the teeny, tiny town of Nederland, Colorado.
The national and international news trucks weren’t far behind. Nor was Campbell’s Chicago family who apparently had no clue their relative was on ice, literally. His body was soon shipped back for burial.
Grandpa, however, remained.
“We had TV crews—ABC, BBC, NPR—all over,” says Dead Guy Days’ Warren.
Apparently, the world’s still tuning in. A few hours after our early February meeting at Nederland’s historic Pioneer Inn, Warren had to field a call from a British journalist.
“The story never dies,” says Christi Icenogle, Nederland’s town clerk.
While the nature of a novice trying his hand at cryogenics will always pique some interest, the town has built its own stories on top of it. Almost eight years after Grandpa was discovered by shocked Nederland marshals and journalists the world around, the town was looking for a festival idea to boost slumping March business. Around this time of year, Nederland’s been buried in snow for months and its residents pounded with winds that would send shivers down a polar bear’s spine.
“You have to be hardy to live here,” says Warren. In the winter, shops and restaurants tank. The chamber’s first idea was holding a “March Madness” festival.
That may work in Louisville where you don’t need incentive to get someone to come out. It’s not that easy in Nederland.
“We were shaking our heads, ‘Oh yeah, that would be special,’” Warren recalls. Celebrating the frozen dead guy seemed like the Nederland way to party in winter.
So Frozen Dead Guy Days was born in 2002, complete with a Grandpa look alike contest, coffin races and Grandpa’s Blue Masquerade Ball. It brought the whole dead guy fiasco back to front and center, which was desperately needed considering Nederland’s coffers were heading toward skid row in the early 1990s.
The town’s sales tax increased 60 percent from 1993 (pre-Bredo) through 2001, when receipts hit an all-time high of $558,207—numbers have essentially flatlined since, hovering around the half-million-mark.
“The restaurants and bars make beaucoup money. It’s not a three-day festival, though,” Warren says. She says on a near daily basis, people come to check out the town that would not only leave a frozen dead body undisturbed but hold a party in his honor. The town’s tourist booth is littered with Frozen Dead Guy paraphernalia.
“It infuses Nederland with an additional source of revenue,” she says. “Competing in this world, we’d be in a much worse situation. Who knows, we may have dissolved the town charter. The festival may have ended up saving Nederland as we know it.”
While it’s hard to quantify how different Nederland would be had Trygve never come along, it’s safe to say it’s yielded buckets of money. “I think we’re still on the verge of extinction…are you hiring?” jokes town clerk Icenogle. “It seems we get a lot of people who stop in and ask about it, and we’re not even the visitor center.”
That doesn’t mean everyone’s happy about Nederland’s claim to fame. Some feel parading in the name of a frozen dead guy doesn’t represent the quaint, family-oriented community well.
“It was fun for the first couple of years, it certainly brought a bunch of money, but I regret what it’s become,” says Bill Allen, a town trustee, mentioning some of the more obscene parts of last year’s parade—lingerie, condoms flung around like lollipops, drunkenness. “I just get sick of it when I travel all over the state and hear, ‘Hey you’ve got that frozen dead guy.’’’
Allen, who is running for mayor, feels the community could be self-sustaining if residents spent their money in-town instead of buying necessities down canyon. He’s flustered the town provides financial resources for this festival when it recently turned down funding for Fourth of July fireworks. “We have so many better alternatives in terms of branding…it’s ghoulish, it’s creepy,” Allen says. “My mother raised me to respect the dead—we’re making a joke out of this poor guy.”
Warren has a message for those who think like Allen: Don’t take life too seriously. It’ll help keep you warm during the winter.
“I’d like to say to those people, I’m sad you don’t have a sense of humor,” she says.
And maybe that’s why it really makes a whole lot of sense that it was a man such as Trygve who was able to get enough attention to Nederland to help it develop year round tourism. Sure, he seems out there—even by Nederland standards. But the town has a reputation for accepting anyone without passing judgment.
“He’s the poster child for alternative thinking people,” Warren says.
Trygve may be a dreamer, but he has more fun than most. At 50 years old, pictures of him reveal a man in tip-top shape. He still ice bathes six times a year and during the winter, Nordic skis 50 miles a week.
Trygve’s unmatched optimism seems to keep him young at heart, too.
Sure, deep down, he believes he will be able to bring Grandpa back in some form. It may sound outlandish, and perhaps it is. “He talks and talks and just utterly believes in the things he believes,” Evans says. “He’s utterly cheerful.”
Trygve certainly gets a kick out of the publicity this story still generates.
“It keeps him in the limelight,” Shaffer says. “What else does he have going? He’s Norwegian and he eats healthy? …Has he affected things for the good? Overall, yes. The festival pulls people together.”
Shaffer gets an equal kick out of the whole thing even if lugging the dry ice once a month is barely worth the $800 he gets wired to do the job. He leads tours of Trygve’s bizarre home and keeps frozen candies and other items for sale in Grandpa’s coffin—where else can you buy something buried with the Frozen Dead Guy?
Basically, it would seem almost everything surrounding Dead Guy Days embodies Nederland’s spirit. It’s a sleepy little town that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
And if it can keep that lifestyle alive by racing coffins, whose to say Trygve is any more crazy than its residents?
“We’re serious about having goals and wanting to improve our environment and surroundings. But we’re also full of humor,” Warren says. “Frozen Dead Guy Days has brought a sense of legitimacy to this town. I dare to think where we’d be today without the mystique of this festival.”