Frozen But Not Forgotten

When Grandpa Bredo Morstol died in 1989, he began a journey far different from what many might consider a “normal” burial. Coming from a family captivated by the science of cryonics, the process of deep-freezing the bodies of those who have died with the hope that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future, Grandpa Bredo’s children forwent a traditional funeral and instead packed their father’s body in dry ice. From there he was shipped across the pond from their home in Norway to a cryonics facility in California. Nearly four years later when the Morstol children decided they’d rather keep their father close to home, the whole family moved to a modest home in the small town of Nederland, Colorado – with Grandpa Bredo residing in an ice-packed shed in back. The Morstol family maintained the integrity of Grandpa Bredo’s body by hiring an “ice man,” a caretaker who refreshes the dry ice supply once a month to keep Grandpa safely frozen.

When the town of Nederland heard the news that a local family was keeping their Grandpa frozen in the backyard, intrigue led to family-operated tours, which in time escalated into a full-fledged winter celebration. Now officially known as “Frozen Dead Guy Days” this three-day festival has been referred to as Nederland’s own Mardi Gras. Nearing on its 14th year, this festival is based on death-themed activities, including but not limited to coffin races, parade of decorated hearses, frozen-turkey bowling, Grandpa-look-a-like costume contests, and more. This quirky festival is not just celebrated by the people from Nederland, but by those all over the world who fly in to enjoy the fun.

Underneath the clear oddities of this festival (i.e. frozen salmon tossing contest) lie deeper matters of interest. First are the implications of the family’s choice to freeze their father’s body. Although sources indicate that the family had a deep interest in cryonics, can this interest be interpreted as their way of dealing with grief? Instead of accepting that one day their father and eventually themselves will cease to exist, does a devotion to cryonics represent a refusal to accept the finality of death? Perhaps there is comfort in the idea that since the body is prepped to be revived, it is not truly gone.

A second oddity is the festival goers’ undeniable deviation from how many Americans “normally” respond to encountering a dead body. The dead are often associated with fear and sadness, and viewing the dead leaves us upset and troubled. In contrast, Grandpa’s dead body is not only a spectacle people long to view, but a spectacle that has inspired an entire festival of celebration and happiness. What is it about this dead body, specifically, that doesn’t ignite feeling of fear?

A final point of consideration that’s highlighted by this unconventional festival is the right of the dead. Grandpa Bredo’s body has now been preserved in dry ice for 25 years, and has been a public display for almost 20. While it has been advertised that his childrens’ motives for preserving the body were in line with their father’s reverence for cryonics, there is no way of truly knowing whether Grandpa would have liked his body to become a public spectacle. Would Grandpa be distraught with his body’s use as an entertainment and tourist attraction, or would he enjoy the attention? Since we’ll never truly know, Grandpa’s spot in the limelight will remain.

 

 

2 responses to “Frozen But Not Forgotten

  1. So, does the Dead Man Festival represent a cycle of antistructure? While it does not appear to permit for the inversion of any political orders, it certainly does invert cultural orders–coffin races and viewing a dead body stand out in particular as examples of these inversions. We might also wonder about the significance, the power, or maybe even the magic of a preserved dead body. Can we say anything about how this material object (maybe abject is more appropriate here) is able to become the centerpiece of a cultural celebration? A fascinating tradition! Thanks.

  2. Jane Hyunjoo Lee

    The first question that I asked myself when reading this is if the grandfather wanted to be frozen. Although he may have been interested in cryonics, he might not have necessarily wanted to be frozen himself. Also, it makes me wonder if he would appreciate the fact that he’s now a public spectacle as Hannah stated. I’m a little surprised at the public’s reaction to this because I thought that the people of Nederland might be horrified to discover that their neighbor was keeping a dead family member frozen in an ice shed. Instead, the community embraced it and made an interesting tradition out of it. I wonder if this festival influences other to freeze their dead loved ones as well. It also makes me wonder if this really is how the family grieves.

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