It was 2014, and Brad Wickham was done with death. He’d spent the past 25 years working as a respiratory therapist in hospital emergency departments, where the relentless cycle of seeing patients die caused him such trauma that he’d been diagnosed with PTSD. Wickham turned to alcohol and drugs to cope. Realizing he needed a fresh start, Wickham moved from Missouri to Nederland because he heard he might find work there. Eventually he did—though there was one catch: Would he be willing to spend time with a dead body?
Although small, Nederland has an outsize reputation, partly due to a local named Bredo Morstoel, a Norwegian man who’s been dead for 30 years. In the early 1990s, Morstoel’s family brought his corpse to town, aiming to create a cryonics facility, but legal issues required them to leave the country before it came to fruition. Bredo stayed behind and became the centerpiece of Nederland’s Frozen Dead Guy Days (March 13 to 15), a winter festival with live music and eccentric events like coffin racing. Bredo’s relatives pay someone to take care of Morstoel during the other 362 days of the year. Since 2014, that person has been Wickham.
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Morstoel’s body rests within a Tuff Shed near Nederland’s Barker Reservoir. Every two weeks, Wickham, now 61, empties around 1,000 pounds of dry ice into a wooden container that holds the casket, keeping the corpse near minus 110 degrees Celsius. The ritual provides him an opportunity to catch up and chat with the man he’s come to think of as family. “That might be the part where a therapist could come in handy,” Wickham says, “but I’ve kind of grown sentimental about it. I know he depends on me.”