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The Legend of Emma Crawford & the Manitou Springs Coffin Races

Emma Crawford Coffin Race 2017
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Featured photo by IG user @m_russo89

Ah, October is nearly here. Leaves are falling from the trees, pumpkin spice lattes are back on cafe menus, and stores are littered with scads of Halloween decorations, which means the Emma Crawford Coffin Races are just around the corner.

Ok, you’re probably wondering: Who is Emma Crawford, and what are the Emma Crawford Coffin Races? Well, as the name suggests, the Emma Crawford Coffin Races is a competition involving racing coffins. Yes, you read that right: people race coffins in the Emma Crawford Coffin Races, and it is a treasured October event in Manitou Springs. This year, however, due to Covid-19, the races will not be run. But more on that in a bit.

So, why do people race coffins in the Emma Crawford Coffin Races? The answer to that question is as eerie as it is interesting. (Though if you already know about Emma and the Coffin Races, feel free to skip over this quick lowdown.)

The History of Emma Crawford

Arriving in Manitou Springs in 1889, an ailing Emma Crawford hoped the fresh air and effervescent mineral springs would cure her tuberculosis. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. In 1891, Crawford passed away due to complications related to her condition. Though her time in Manitou Springs was short, Crawford was smitten with the quaint mountain town. In fact, she loved Manitou Springs so much that she requested that her body be buried atop Red Mountain, one of the city’s most famous peaks. Crawford’s romantic partner worked with numerous townspeople to bury the coffin and remains of Emma Crawford at the Red Mountain summit.

Nearly 40 years later, a series of winter and spring storms (so characteristic of Colorado), unearthed the coffin, and sent Emma zooming down the muck and mire of the mountainside. When passersby came across the coffin, nothing but a few bones and nameplate remained.

The Race

In honor of Emma Crawford and her mud-sliding coffin, the Manitou Chamber of Commerce ran the nation’s first-ever coffin race in 1995, 66 years after Crawford’s near-empty coffin raced down Red Mountain.

Given the ghostly nature of the event, the Emma Crawford Coffin Race is held every year around Halloween. Here’s what the races entail: teams decorate a coffin of their choosing, often aligning their costumes to fit their coffin’s theme. Each team has four “runners” who push the coffin, and one “Emma” who rests inside the coffin as the team races other coffins to the finish line. The races have since become a popular tradition — so much so that cities across the U.S. have attempted to copy it!

2020 Festivities 

Though there isn’t an actual coffin race this year, you can stay safe and still honor Emma Crawford. The Manitou Chamber of Commerce is hosting three Coffin-Race-themed competitions. Here’s a run through of what they are:

  1. T-shirt Contest
    Artists from all around the region submitted their designs for a chance to have their work featured. And since the Emma Crawford races can’t run, the theme of the contest is “the year that wasn’t”. T-shirt Designs were posted in the Manitou Visitor Center, where people could view them before voting for their favorites online. (The winner will be selected Sept. 14th). You can pre-order the winning artist’s design from September 14th – 25th. No worries if you missed the contest or pre-order date, though. You can grab your fabric markers, puffy paint and glitter, and get crafting in preparation for this year’s second event.
  2. Emma Crawford Costume Contest
    It wouldn’t be a Halloween event without a costume contest, which is why the Manitou Chamber of Commerce included one in this year’s competition. There are opportunities to win two prizes, one for “Best Emma” and “Best Team Theme”. And participation is a cinch: Simply take a snapshot of you and your crew (family, friends, whomever) dolled up and decked out in your Halloween finest, and submit the group or singular selfie to coffinraces@manitouchamber.com. The contest runs from October 1st through October 23rd, which gives you plenty of time to dream up a fashionably frightening costume. And if you really wanna grab Manitou’s attention, take to social media and post your pic using the hashtag #EmmaCup.
  3. Emma Crawford Scavenger Hunt
    Things get even more hands-on for the third and final event, a scavenger hunt through Manitou Springs. Beginning October 17th, the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce will release a list of riddles and clues for participating teams to solve. When you find a clue, submit a pic to coffinraces@manitouchamber.com. Each clue picture counts as an entry into the prize drawing. (In other words, the more clues you find, the more chances you have to win!) The scavenger hunt contest runs from October 17th through the 25th. The winning team will be announced October 26th. To register your team (limit: five people) online click here, or stop on by the Manitou Springs Visitor Center, located at 354 Manitou Ave.

If you have questions about any of these three events, you can call the Visitors Office at the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce at 719-685-5089 or email them directly at mackenzie@manitouchamber.com.

Why can it be so stressful to plan something that’s supposed to be so much fun? We get it. That’s why ordering your FREE visitor guide to Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region is like having your own travel planner on speed dial.