“The first is Frozen Dead Guy Day, it’s in Estes Park. This man, Bredo Morstoel, he died, and he was like “I want to be frozen and you can bring me back to life one day when you guys have that technology.” And they granted his wish and there’s a shed that has his cyro preserved body in it, so he’s a frozen dead guy. And so every year there’s an annual celebration called Frozen Dead Guy Day in Estes Park, where they celebrate and all hail the frozen dead guy that’s just chilling in the shed in town. So people take photos outside and have coffin races.
The coffin races are similar to Emma Crawford Coffin Races in Manitou Springs Colorado. Emma Crawford wanted to be buried alongside Pikes Peak, which is right outside Manatu. There was a horrible mudslide on a rainy day and her coffin comes tumbling down the mountain, down through town square. They’re like “No Emma your coffin!” She gets put back in the mountain, it’s fine. But now to honor her displaced coffin there are coffin races where everybody has to make a coffin and race their coffin down the side of the road against other coffins. People dress up super Halloweeny, super fun, same with Frozen Dead Guy Day, to celebrate the dead! To keep her body safe in the mountain so she doesn’t come sliding in town again you have to race your coffin, to appease Emma Crawford. I used to go to Emma Crawford Coffin Races every year and I would participate, we would sit on top of a hearst. We would dress up and hand out flyers for the haunted house I worked at. Everybody gets so into it and gets competitive about the best decorated coffin, what’s the best design for racing, who do you want to win, who has the silliest costume? The whole thing’s broadcast on the news. Afterwards I love to get myself some pumpkin pie ice cream.
Y is a 19-year-old college student from Denver, Colorado. She would visit the Emma Crawford Races every year with her family because they have family friends in Estes Park who they would visit and stay with and celebrate the festival. Her dad would also often take her to the Frozen Dead Guy Day celebrations. She remembers the Coffin Races fondly as fun celebrations that were around her favorite holiday, Halloween. She’s really interested in the gothic and macabre, so these festivals were favorites of hers.
Both festivals have all of the elements of festivals. They are examples of festival time, when you operate by different rules than you usually would. Death and the macabre are usually avoided for Americans, they’re usually sad, upsetting taboo topics. However, during these festivals, people celebrate those things and make light of them. Emma Crawford Coffin Races occur in October, relating them to Halloween or Samhein. Lots of festivals surrounding the dead happen during this time period, like Day of the Dead, Halloween, or All Saints Day. This is related to the agricultural calendar, when things got colder and crops would start to die after harvest. These are Chthonic festivals and rituals, relating to returning to the earth. During the Coffin Races, people become comfortable with the idea of being in coffins and returning to the earth, something that is usually taboo. Both of these festivals are also the results of when proper burial rituals were done wrong. In the case of Frozen Dead Guy Day, he defied the usual expectations of burial rituals, and is actually attempting to defy death by coming back to life later on. The Emma Crawford Coffin Races are supposedly held to appease Emma’s spirit, because her resting place was disrespected and disrupted, so the festival must be held as a sort of apology for this disrespect and to celebrate her spirit. Both festivals also include lots of elements of performance. They follow a syntax, with the opening, the main event of coffin racing, celebrations such as eating, music, and drinking, maybe a costume contest near the middle, and then the closing celebrations. The big event of the coffin racing in both festivals is a symbolic event representing people making light and coming to terms with tough topics like their own mortality. There are performative acts like the costumes, and the racing. Costumes are also an example of the festival’s specific dress requirements. The festivals also have specific foods associated with them. Y says she loves to eat pumpkin pie ice cream after the Emma Crawford Coffin Races, with pumpkin being a food associated with Fall and Halloween time. These festivals are also community and identity building events for the towns. Both festivals are held in small towns that take great community pride in these events. These festivals have put these small towns on the map, and share town history and folklore stories that have stuck around in the community.