Keeping It Dead in Ned
It’s one of Colorado’s most cherished secrets. Just a half hour drive west from Boulder, along Highway 119, sits the sleepy little mountain town of Nederland. Its residents know it better as “Ned.”
It’s a town that annually celebrates a cryogenic danse macabre near a frigid lake. A town that once served as a destination for the legends of rock-and-roll. A town with its own unique character, a Golden Age throwback untouched by the urbane ravages of chain stores and tollways.
To get some idea of Nederland’s eccentricity, take the case of one Trygve Bauge, a Norwegian who dearly loved his grandfather, Bredo Morstøl. In 1989, Bauge preserved his deceased grandfather’s memory—and body—by placing it into a cryogenic state with dry ice and liquid nitrogen.
Convinced technology could eventually advance far enough to reanimate his frozen grandfather, he transported the body from Norway to a laboratory in California. After traipsing the frozen corpse around the US, Bauge finally settled in Nederland, where his mother resided.
After a series of mishaps and trip-ups, Bauge was deported. His mother, Aud, was evicted shortly thereafter. Fearing the frozen body may thaw and decay, Aud pleaded with city officials to protect Morstøl’s icy memento mori. After a media uproar, the city made concessions. Morstøl’s corpse then passed through other caretakers in Nederland, where he rests to this day.
Frozen Dead Guy Days
BECAUSE LIFE GOES ON, EVEN IN DEATH
Perhaps Nederland’s most eminent claim to fame is a yearly festival known as Frozen Dead Guy Days (FROZENDEADGUYDAYS.ORG), an emphatic nod to the story of Bauge, Aud, and Morstøl. Spanning three days in March (10 to 12 this year), the festival utterly engulfs the small town, with live music from over 30 acts, a brain freeze contest, an ice sculpting contest, a frozen salmon toss game, a hearse parade, a coffin race, a silent disco, a viewing of a documentary about the frozen dead guy, and a slew of other odd-yet-perky events.
“It’s a celebration of life, but with the reflection of death—in a humorous way,” says Amanda MacDonald, the organizer of Frozen Dead Guy Days. MacDonald adds this year’s festival will include some new items. A never-before-seen brew will be unveiled. Festival goers are encouraged to dress up as David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, or any other musician who passed away in the ill-fated year of 2016. Despite the addition of the deceased-musicians theme, the traditional Ice Queen and Grandpa costume contest is still on, too.
The Train Cars Coffee and Yogurt
LITERAL TRAIN CARS FOR SIPPING LITERAL COFFEE
This quaint treat shop is composed of three decommissioned train cars, each with an intriguing history. The longest car, called the Pullman Car, once hosted a beehive that thwarted a gang of thieves from stealing the car’s antique stained glass windows. (There are no bees in the Pullman Car today.) The Caboose was once an accident magnet, suffering a collision in 1920 then surviving a flood in 1965. (There have been no accidents with the Caboose in over half a century.) And the Circus Car used to advertise for the Sells-Floto Circus around the turn of the 20th century. (There’s no more circus, but it still features those ads.)
Oh yeah, and they serve up some yummy burritos, chili, loaded brats, donuts, soups, sandwiches, smoothies, shakes, ice cream, and malts along with the coffee and yogurt. If you happen to be in Nederland during the Frozen Dead Guy Days, stop by The Train Cars to check out the reggae/ dub band Iron Roots, who’ll be throwing a free show thereon Saturday, March 11, 3pm–6pm. 101 HIGHWAY 119 // 303-258-2455 // THETRAINCARSCOFFEE.COM
The Carousel of Happiness
THE WHEEL OF FATE GOES ROUND AND ROUND
Originally a Coney Island ride introduced in 1910, the Carousel of Happiness was much like The Caboose at The Train Cars Coffee & Yogurt—prone to accidents but ultimately remaining intact. Over the years, it endured fires, windstorms, and somehow survived a roller coaster falling on top of it.
Then, in 1986, a Vietnam War vet and Marine named Scott Harrison purchased the wrecked carousel and brought it to his town, Nederland. For the next 26 years, he hand-carved wooden animals to replace the ones the carousel lost to time. He also installed an old Wurlitzer band organ to play Chopin’s “Tristesse,” the only tune that could soothe away the anguish he carried from the war.
For one whole whopping dollar, you and the kids can take a spin around this hand-crafted carousel. It’s not only one of the world’s last remaining wooden carousels, it’s also one of the few with a wheelchair accessible ramp. 20 LAKEVIEW DR. // 303-258-3457 // CAROUSELOFHAPPINESS.ORG
TAVERN-STYLED BAR WITH A TWINGE OF ROCK-AND-ROLL
From the outside, it looks like any ol’ cabin next to any lake in Colorado. Head inside, and you’ll find a tavern with walls decked in rock-and-roll memorabilia. The burgers are insanely well-made, too.
But what gives with all the rock stuff?
Back in the 1970s, record producer James Guercio converted an old barn into a studio. It sat right outside of Nederland on a road that led to the abandoned town of Caribou. Because of its proximity to the ghost town, it was called Caribou Ranch.
From that period between the early 1970s to 1980s, Boulder and Nederland became a hip hangout for rock-and-rollers, a way for them to escape the cluttered hum-drum of Los Angeles and San Francisco. A journey to Caribou Ranch was also a testament to one’s established success: with California saturated with up-and-coming talent, it was easy for musicians to get studio time in the Golden State. But the real rock-and-rollers, the ones who made it, could afford a jaunt to Nederland, often living in the area for weeks if not months at a time.
Many of those big names included Elton John (remember his album Caribou?), Michael Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Billy Joel, The Beach Boys, Tom Petty, Frank Zappa, Rod Stewart, U2, Phil Collins, Stephen Stills, Steely Dan, Peter Frampton, John Denver, John Lennon, and Chicago (who recorded five albums at the ranch).
The Pioneer Inn, during these days of rock-and-roll yore, became one of the most hopping spots on the planet. The artists who visited Nederland for recording would stop into the bar to play gigs. These were no tame affairs, either, and often the parties got incredibly rowdy, with wild ruckuses and knuckle-sandwich throw-downs. Nederland, then a town of miners and cowboys, would clash with the hippies and rocksters who toured through just to see the talent. This cozy bar, in many ways, represented a cultural microcosm of America at that time.
Today, the Pioneer Inn is much quieter. They still invite musicians to play, but they stick to lesser-knowns for more intimate experiences. And their burgers are some of the best you’ll find in Colorado. 15 E. 1ST ST. // 303-258-7733 // PIONEERINNNEDERLAND.NET