News reports from Nederland in May 1994 were grim. Police had found the body of Bredo Morstoel frozen on dry ice behind the house of two Norwegian immigrants. The town council filed a cease-and-desist order, dooming the body to thaw. Aud Morstoel, Bredo’s daughter and keeper, wept in front of television cameras, comparing Nederland to Stalinist Russia and blaming the town for killing her father (really, he had been dead for five years).
The town’s shock didn’t last. Thanks to a reporter who uncovered Bredo’s bizarre backstory, Nederland rallied around the body, turning the macabre discovery into an overnight sensation. A caretaker was hired to keep temperatures low, and town laws were re-written to outlaw preservation of bodies, except those in a “research facility.” Hence re-naming Bredo’s shed the International Cryonics Institute.
The biggest honor was Frozen Dead Guy Days, a winter carnival held for the first time in 2001. The festival is as much a hyperbolic celebration of mountain life as it is a tribute to Bredo himself. Classic events include the frozen salmon toss, frozen turkey bowling, a polar plunge and, of course, a coffin race.
In its first decade, Frozen Dead Guy Days grew into something of a cult gathering—in 2010, an estimated 15,000 revelers descended upon the little hamlet. When the festival went up for sale the following year, it was bought by longtime fan and organizer Amanda MacDonald. “I was kind of critical of it at first,” MacDonald says. “Why do they do this, why don’t they do that? Then a friend said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ ”
Anticipation for the upcoming 2014 festival (March 7-9) is higher than ever. “Last year we had a big blizzard on Saturday. The year before, we had 100 mph winds. We basically had to cancel half of the weekend,” adds MacDonald, downright peppy at the prospect of a seamless event.
This year, old favorites meet quirky additions. The hearse parade and frozen beach volleyball—festival stalwarts—precede the new frozen remote control monster truck demo and frozen T-shirt contest. Frozen poultry bowling may not be your thing, but the fest is worth a gander simply to see how this human popsicle has thrived against all odds. Chilling temperatures are expected, the location is remote and conventional festival season is months away. MacDonald says it perfectly: “It’s a wild ride, let’s put it that way.”