Manitou Springs, CO

The Strange Tale of Emma Crawford and the Coffin Race

Colorado Jill
Photo by Lucas van Oort on Unsplash

Manitou Springs, Colorado, is a charming mountain town with beautiful views, famous mineral springs, fantastic art galleries, and a popular coffin race.

For the past 28 years, on the Saturday before Halloween, the town honors Emma Crawford, a former resident, in a spectacular, unique, and slightly morbid way. Five-person costumed teams (one rider and four pushers) race creative, makeshift coffins along Manitou Avenue to a cheering crowd for bragging rights and prize money.

Emma Crawford

Emma Crawford, a talented musician, moved to Manitou Springs from the East Coast in 1889 with her mother. She struggled with poor health since childhood, presumably tuberculosis, and came to Colorado hoping the dry air, sunshine, and mineral springs might heal her.

Sadly, Emma died two years later when she was twenty-eight.

During her brief time living in the area, Emma was fond of hiking Red Mountain which stands south of Manitou Springs and allegedly requested to be buried on the summit. It took twelve pallbearers, working in two shifts, to carry her coffin to the mountain top.

She rested peacefully on the hill for many years.

In 1912, a cable railway was built to transport tourists up and down Red Mountain. A powerhouse and depot were constructed on the summit, requiring Emma’s grave to be relocated on the mountain.

Unfortunately, Ms. Crawford’s second final resting place was only temporary. A human skull, coffin pieces, and Emma’s casket nameplate were found in 1929 in various locations on and around Red Mountain. Somehow her coffin was unearthed, likely weather, and traveled down the mountain into town.

Ms. Crawford’s remains were buried for the third time in the town’s cemetery, Crystal Valley Cemetery, in an unmarked grave.

A once beloved city resident was resting far from the mountain she loved. This sad story deserved a better ending.

In 2004, one hundred and thirteen years after her death, the City of Manitou Springs provided Ms. Crawford with a memorial stone to mark her grave and a yearly party to honor her memory.

May she rest in peace.

The 2022 Coffin Race

The 2022 Emma Crawford Coffin Race & Festival is Saturday, October 29th.

To be part of the cheering crowd, arrive early and secure a good viewing spot along the 900 block of Manitou Avenue. The parade begins at noon, and the coffin race starts after the parade. For a schedule of events and more information, go here.

I'll see you there!

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Jill is based in Colorado and writes about hidden gems, history, the great outdoors, and local events.

Colorado Springs, CO

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