March 2, 2012 at 10:12 AM ET
What do you get when you combine a hearse parade, coffin races and a deceased senior citizen who’s been packed in dry ice for 23 years?
Most places, you’d just get funny looks or a cease-and-desist order but in Nederland, Colo., you get the annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival. Running March 2–4, this celebration of “the big sleep” is wild enough to wake the dead and earn the hallowed honor of Overhead Bin’s Weird Festival of the Month for March.
“It’s the Mardi Gras of the cryonics community,” said Bo “Iceman” Shaffer, who, among other things, is the man responsible for keeping said senior citizen, aka Grandpa Bredo, well-chilled. “Like Mardi Gras is for religion, this is kind of serious but also about having fun.”
The serious side dates back to 1989 when Grandpa Bredo Morstoel died in his native Norway. Four years later, his frozen remains ended up in Nederland where family members had founded the International Cryonics Institute and Center for Life Extension (ICICLE) on the outskirts of town.
“We are a low-tech, backyard cryonics facility,” said Shaffer. “We’re researching how you, too, can do backyard cryonics.”
At this point, the “research” is essentially limited to maintaining Grandpa Bredo’s mortal remains in a shed containing a stainless-steel sarcophagus kept at -100 degrees. To that end, Shaffer hauls up to a ton of dry ice up to the facility once a month and repacks him for posterity.
“Bredo is one of our best citizens,” said local resident Dave Felkley. “He doesn’t party; he doesn’t cause any disturbance.”
He does, however, inspire others, which is how Frozen Dead Guy Days came about 11 years ago. “We were known as the town with the frozen dead guy,” said event coordinator Amanda MacDonald, “so the Chamber of Commerce thought, hey, why don’t we throw a festival?”
Today, the festival is jam-packed with events and activities that range from the merely chilly to the downright macabre. Among the former are several competitions, including frozen salmon tossing, frozen turkey bowling and a polar-bear plunge into the frigid waters of Chipeta Park Pond.
Among the more macabre events are a Grandpa lookalike contest, a parade of antique hearses and regular showings of the popular documentary “Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed.” The festival’s signature event is a series of coffin races, in which teams of “pallbearers” have to carry an open coffin — complete with a fellow team member as the corpse — around an obstacle course of mud, snow and playground equipment.
With team names like the Addams Family and Donner Party — and costumes to match — teams are scored on both speed and spirit. “I don’t know how to define Frozen Dead Guy spirit,” said MacDonald, “but when you see it, you know it.”
Of course, no visit to Frozen Dead Guy Days would be complete without a stopover to see the original frozen dead guy up at the IC Institute. Throughout the festival, Shaffer will lead tours to the facility ($30 per person), which include a visit to the shed in which Grandpa resides.
And, inquiring minds want to know, do you actually get to see what someone who has been packed in dry ice for almost 25 years looks like?
“In the 18 years I’ve been doing this that’s the most-asked question I get,” Shaffer told msnbc.com. “The answer is no, what you get to see is the coffin-shaped sarcophagus he’s in. But you’re only a few inches away from him so it’s still pretty spooky.”
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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.