The Iceman Comes To Nederland: Meet The Frozen Dead Guy's Caretaker
For Brad Wickham, Frozen Dead Guy Days is a year-round event.
The three-day annual festival in Nederland features coffin races, ice carvings and a polar plunge to celebrate the frozen corpse of Bredo Morstoel, better known around town as Grandpa Bredo.
As Morstoel's caretaker, Wickham has driven up to see him every two weeks for the past five years, to add more dry ice and make sure he's still a comfortable minus 110 degrees Celsius.
"I have to admit every now and then on my way up here with a load of ice I'll be thinking to myself, you know, I am the only guy in the world right now driving up the Rocky Mountains with a half a ton of dry ice to put on a frozen Norwegian," he said.
As the story goes, in 1993 — four years after Morstoel died of a heart condition in his home country of Norway — his family moved his body from the cryogenics facility where he was stored in Oakland, Calif. to a shed on a plot of land they purchased in Nederland.
Morstoel's daughter Aud, along with his grandson, Trygve Bauge, planned to start their own cryonics lab there. Bredo Morstoel was to be their first client. But when town officials discovered that they had a frozen body on the property, they passed Section 7-34 in the Municipal Code banning the storage of human remains on residential properties.
Morstoel was grandfathered in, but his daughter was evicted from the property because of a lack of plumbing and electricity. Bauge, who was by then back in Norway, hired a caretaker to look after the body, which has been kept in an unassuming Tuff Shed next to the vacant lab ever since.
"This is a low-budget operation," Wickham joked as he opened up the shed.
Inside is a large wooden box, a little bigger than a standard size hot tub. It takes up most of the shed with just enough room for a miniature memorial to Morstoel in the corner. There sit old family photos of Morstoel and a couple of bottles of Old Grand-Dad Kentucky straight bourbon.
Within the box are layers of heavy blankets, plastic tarps and styrofoam, providing insulation.
Every two weeks, Wickham drives down to Reliant Dry Ice in Denver and picks up a half ton of dry ice blocks to place on Morstoel's metal casket. At the start of each delivery, he scribbles the date on a notepad and sets it at the foot of the box, to take a "before" photo of it with his cell phone. The picture is for Bauge, so he can keep tabs on things from Norway.
It's hard to see much beyond the heavy layer of frost that covers the casket. Multiple chains are wrapped around it with a padlock to keep out vandals.
The work can be physically taxing and despite wearing thick gloves, he still occasionally gets burned by the dry ice. But it's the mental toll that can sometimes be the hardest.
When Wickham first got the job, he said he would sometimes wake up at 2 a.m. wondering if he fully closed the lid.
"And I've gotten in the truck to come up and check before," he said. "I was just so stressed about screwing something up, thawing him out. Now it's just routine."
It's a routine that Wickham takes seriously. He said he feels a responsibility to the man he — along with many in the town of Nederland — affectionately calls "Grandpa Bredo."
"Somehow I feel some kind of obligation or attachment or something, I'm gonna have to probably visit a therapist and see what's going on and why I always consider this something I can't stop doing," he said.
It might have something to do with his previous job, a 25-year career as an emergency room respiratory therapist.
"I don't know if I transitioned from taking care of living people to dead people," Wickham said. "It's kind of the same sensation."
Wickham has a sense of humor about the whole thing. He said he never misses the annual Frozen Dead Guy Days Festival. He even had a cameo in a local, low-budget horror film "Body Keepers" — loosely based on Nederland's strange-but-true local lore.
"With me, I like to go to the festival and enjoy it," he said. "I consider it my Christmas party in the sense that I've worked all year for this ... so I'm going to have a good time."
As for the idea of living forever through cryogenics, Wickham isn't totally convinced.
"Like Groundhog Day for centuries, you know — heck with that," he said. "I don't think I want to be frozen, myself. But I'm not going to run anybody down that does. We don't know what's beyond here and I'd hate to miss out on something that was really cool."
When asked if he ever chats with Bredo, he said of course.
"I'm not going to come up here and not say anything — every two weeks," Wickham reasoned. "If he did come back to life and then ask me why the heck I wouldn't talk to him, I don't know. I wouldn't have an answer."
Wickham said he's developed a fondness for Grandpa Bredo, even though he only knows him through those memorial photos, posing in the mountains surrounded by family.
"You can tell he's just the center of everybody's focus," Wickham said. "So I'm just thinking what would it be like to ice fish with him, take a boat through the canals with him or so I've developed this thing about it, I've got this responsibility to the family and there's no one else here necessarily to do that for them and perhaps that's why."
Like the two caretakers before him, Wickham said he knows he won't do this job forever. He's training apprentices to take over the role. But for now, he's happy to hang out for a little while every two weeks with Grandpa Bredo.
The annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival is March 8-10, 2019 in Nederland.