(MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo.) — In less than twenty-four hours, people of all ages from all over the country will gather in Manitou Springs to honor the spirit of Emma Crawford through coffin races.
“We’ve had multiple countries represented in our coffin races,” Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce Special Events Coordinator, Jenna Gallas, said. “While we don’t have international teams this year, we do have a lot of teams returning for multiple years. We’re really excited to welcome everybody back and a really good population of new folks coming this year.”
This year marks the 29th annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races and Festival where people build their very own coffin and race it with one team member sitting inside as the “Emma.” For those planning on attending information on closures and parking can be found here.
For those curious about how this festival came about, one must first understand who Emma Crawford was.
“Emma Crawford was a 26-year-old young woman who came here to be cured from tuberculosis by the mineral springs here in Manitou,” Gallas said. “She lived over behind where is now Miramont Castle with her mother and her sister at the time and she was a woman that loved nature, that loved the outdoors, that loved being here in the calm, peaceful area of Manitou.”
Emma Crawford came in hopes the mineral springs would help cure her illness, spending two years in Manitou before her passing on Dec. 4, 1891. She left with her dying wish–to be buried on top of Red Mountain.
“William Hildebrand and 11 other men in turn, carried her casket up the mountainside to bury her,” said Gallas.
Emma Crawford’s body would be moved after the original burial as Red Mountain would be developed.
“When someone came in and wanted to put in an incline, the little ride for tourists,” Gallas said. “They said, ‘you need to move this body,’ so her body was moved from that first burial.”
Keeping to Crawford’s dying wish, her remains were buried a second time on Red Mountain. However, Colorado weather would not agree to this wish.
“It was Emma’s second burial on Red Mountain, that she was buried not very well after years of erosion and heavy rains,” Gallas said. “Pieces of the casket had been found and bones at the bottom of Red Mountain. So, while it wasn’t as dramatic as some may think, a casket sliding down the side of a mountain might be, it certainly over time did, and so the coffin races began out of that legend and lore from Emma Crawford.”
Once a year, Manitou Springs hosts this festival to honor Crawford’s spirit, but some say they can still feel her lurking.
“Emma’s mother and her sister Alice, did live in Redstone Castle for some time after Emma passed,” Gallas said. “The current resident there has made remarks about the sounds of piano music emanating from within the castle.”
There is a headstone dedicated to this local legend at Crystal Valley Cemetery, but for many they still wonder where all her remains lie in Manitou Springs.