NEDERLAND, Colo. (CBS4)– In the town of Nederland, its history is part of an identity that is known around the world. The question now is whether the town can keep its identity and character as Colorado changes.
“Things always happen up her,” said Teresa Crush Warren, the founder of Frozen Dead Guy Days.
The town west of Boulder has had a lot of different identities over the years, but since 1994 when the story first broke, it has been the town with the frozen dead guy.
“Where are you from? and you’d say ‘Nederland, Colorado’ and they’d say, ‘Oh isn’t that where that frozen dead guy is!'”
The festival was created when Teresa and other people involved with the local Chamber of Commerce about eight years later. They were trying to generate something to carry businesses through the long spring between the seasonal closing of Eldora Ski Area and the arrival of summer. There were suggestions like “March Madness,” which had its own problems and Teresa suggested they call it what everyone knew the town for; a frozen dead guy. The whole process of creating it began to snowball with fun activity ideas that today are its signature, like the coffin races.
“That happened at dinner parties at my house. Having lots of wine.”
The story of the frozen dead guy began when Norwegian Trygve Bauge had his already deceased grandfather Bredo Morstoel frozen following his death hoping it would be the start of a cryonics lab in Nederland where Trygve owned land. He kept his father and another family friend, Al Campbell of Chicago in two sheds on the property. Using dry ice, to preserve his grandfather, Trygve hoped to one day bring his grandfather back to life.
The town heard about it at the same time when Trygve ran into visa problems and had to return to his native Norway, leaving his mother Aud Morstoel to deal with the town and the bodies. She was perplexed and angered at the town’s opposition to the idea of the men in the shed. The town passed an ordinance to prohibit the keeping of human remains on any property in the town, but grandpa was, “grandfathered in.” Al Campbell’s family had his body moved soon after, but grandpa remains in a shed on the family property to this day, with his ice tended every two weeks by a family friend.
The story got so much attention, that almost no matter where one might go, there was an awareness. Mayor Kristopher Larsen recalls being in Mongolia.
“And I am actually at a brewery there and talking to this guy next to me and he was from Europe and he had heard of Nederland because of the Frozen Dead Guy Days,” he laughed.
The festival, which returned in 2022 after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic has now become what the town is known for. In the town of 1,500 it gets mixed reviews.
“Some people are all in. Other people I know, they’re like, ‘you know what, I’m out.’ They go to Moab for the weekend,” said Larsen.
The festival was eventually bought by a private company that has been running it for years. But it’s gotten more difficult says one of the partners, Amanda MacDonald.
“It is a bit of a different landscape but things are changing all over the place.”
Nederland itself has evolved from being a free-spirited town to one with rising real estate costs and fewer artists and musicians.
“There was talks of maybe it’s too big for the town but I don’t know,” said MacDonald. Costs have gone up. Insurance tripled this year. The festival seems to go along with a live and let live atmosphere and the crowds generally just cooperate and have a good time. Organization was a loosely applied term.
“The whole idea was if you have a business and you want to take part, come up with an event and we’ll just do it.,” said Amanda.
But with tens of thousands rolling into town for the festival, the difficulty has increased. There’s even been talk of holding the festival somewhere else.
Nonconformity has been standard operating procedure for some in the town for years and art and music were a draw. But higher housing costs are pushing those people to other areas and the town is thinking about the character of what it really is. It is part ski town. Part environmental treasure.
“That’s been a huge thing up here as long as I can remember growing up is this is a town that really puts that at the core of who we are,” said Larsen.
Along with Frozen Dead Guy Days and arts and music and whatever else people want to do. Because Nederland is still defined by the people who’ve made something out of a strange news event and ran with it.
Note: Alan Gionet is spending time visiting Colorado’s cities and towns to talk about their identities and what’s important to people who live there. Nederland is the first in a series of those reports. Look for more on Nederland ahead as well as other great Colorado places.