Colorado Town Celebrates Farewell to Winter

Festivals, Iconic Communities, On the Road, Traditions
on February 24, 2008
Steve Groer Pallbearers in Elvis costumes carry a casket during Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, Colo.

Thousands of waving spectators line the streets of Nederland, Colo. (pop. 1,394), as a parade filled with skeletons, helmeted Vikings, pompadoured Elvises and antique hearses makes its way down First Street to mark the beginning of Frozen Dead Guy Daysa celebration thats part Mardi Gras, part county fair, and all tongue-in-cheek.

Ive never lived in a town with such a sense of humor, says Marcee Niklaus, 52, who moved to Nederland in 2005. This is fun stuff.

With coffin races, a polar plunge, costume party and frozen turkey bowling, Frozen Dead Guy Days is residents weekend farewell to the areas harsh, snow-filled winter.

Were all sick of winter, says Ruth Brickley, 64, from nearby Broomfield, Colo. A little fun at the end lifts our spirits.

The three-day March festival began as a result of a bizarre incident in 1994. That year, town officials discovered a cryogenically frozen man, Bredo Morstoel, in a garden shed. The man had been left behind when his daughter and grandson, who were in the United States illegally, were deported to their home country of Norway. In response, the town council passed an ordinance banning frozen bodies within city limits, while Morstoel, already on the premises, was grandfathered in.

National media latched on to the outrageous story, making Nederland famous for making frozen bodies, including frozen turkeys, illegal. In response, townspeople decided to embrace their odd claim to fame, creating Frozen Dead Guy Days in 2002 as a way to have some fun and attract tourists. Most residents consider Morstoel, now nicknamed Grandpa, an honorary citizen.

Hes the darling of the community, says Bo Shaffer, who keeps Grandpas stainless steel sarcophagus packed with dry ice. Once, the town wanted him removed. Today, he could be elected mayor if he played his cards right.

During the festival, visitors can view documentaries detailing Grandpas story in a local motels conference room, although most visitors prefer to take part in wacky activities, such as the Grandpa Look-a-Like contest, in which blue-lipped men with silver-painted faces compete to be festival king.

Frozen Dead Guy Days is fun, says look-a-like contestant Mike Dunn, 59, of Colorado Springs. Its a celebration of life, not death.

A festival highlight is the coffin race, which draws two dozen teams from Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs. Participants suit up as ghosts, cows with balloon udders, and Wizard of Oz characters for timed heats. Six pallbearers scramble over 4-foot snow mounds and race under and around playground equipment while carrying a teammate in a homemade cardboard coffin.

Today, many people get their entertainment from Hollywood, says Nederland resident Laurelyn Sayah, whos attended the festival since its inception. In Nederland, people create fun without the mass media. We entertain ourselves.

Last year, Sayah took part in the bone-chilling Charity Polar Plunge, wearing a green-themed costume of green tights and a green fern skirt to raise money for an environmental charity. To the delight of spectators, nearly a dozen other participants, ages 12 to 60, donned outlandish costumesWonder Woman, Mr. Incredible and Tinker Belland cannonballed or cartwheeled into the icy Chipeta Park pond to raise money for various causes.

Of course, none of the events could take place without the help of some 200 volunteers who pitch in to ready the town for the 15,000 visitors who fill Nederland during the second weekend in March. It doesnt happen without everybody helping out, says Nick Gloyd, 38, who helped construct the 400-yard coffin race course. I saw my friends volunteering and wanted to help too. I have a good time with it.

Teresa Warren, the festivals coordinator, views Frozen Dead Guy Days as an opportunity to bring the community together for a good time. This distracts people from the serious things in the world for a few hours, she says. They need to laugh and relax. Where else could you see an obstacle course coffin race in the snow?