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October 16, 2019

The Legend of Emma Crawford & the Manitou Springs Coffin Races

Featured photo by IG user @m_russo89

If you’ve ever visited Manitou Springs—or you happen to be lucky enough to live there—you’ve probably heard about Emma Crawford. But for those of you who don’t know, we thought we’d share her story and how her life (or death, really) inspired the famous and fun Emma Crawford Wake and Coffin Races in Manitou Springs on Saturday, October 26th. Those of you who know the tale can skip ahead to our handy Race Day Survival Guide, a necessity for enjoying the festivities stress-free. But first, who was Ms. Crawford and why was she a big deal?

The Tale of Emma Crawford

The story of Emma Crawford begins 100 years ago. Like many people, Emma had journeyed to the city of Manitou Springs to enjoy the thin, clean air and, hopefully, benefit from the restorative properties of the towns natural mineral springs. Emma, you see, had tuberculosis.

When Emma got to Manitou Springs, she did seem to take a turn for the better, beginning to live a normal life and even getting engaged! Her beau, William Hildebrand was quite enamored with his feisty bride, who insisted on challenging the limitations of her illness by conquering the challenging terrain of nearby Red Mountain. She was successful and determined she would be buried at the summit upon her death.

Unfortunately, her death came all too soon, leaving Mr. Hildebrand a widow before the couple ever said “I do.” He gathered a dozen men to ensure he could give his bride-to-be one gift: bury her at the top of Red Mountain.

It seems that even in death, Emma was not one for rest. During a severe rainstorm, the mountain earth she was buried in began to wash away. Emma’s coffin shot down the mountain, sliding into town to the surprise of the citizens. Her coffin was relocated to a more suitable resting place, Crystal Valley Cemetery, where she has, so far, stayed put.

Today, in a celebration that is distinctly Manitou, people flock to the town to celebrate Emma Crawford with an annual wake and a flurry of festivities, including the coffin races.

What are the Coffin Races?

You can find out the full details about participation here, but here’s the skinny on how they work. Every team (and there are 50 of them) creates a decorated coffin that fits the determined race specs. Teams consist of four runners to push the coffin and one “Emma” to ride to the final resting place (AKA, finish line). Racers go two coffins at a time. Bystanders get a chance to check out the rad rides in a cool parade.

The whole town is in on the fun with live music at all the restaurants and bars, specials in the stores, costumes, spooky decorations and so much more. It’s an all-day festival of fun with a cool theme and tons to do. Speaking of fun, we do have some tips to help you maximize yours:

Emma Crawford Coffin Races Survival Guide

You may not know this, but Manitou Springs is a pretty small town. Now, imagine that neat little strip that makes up the town suddenly stuffed with people and even less of the already-limited parking. It has the potential to be stressful. So, we’re here to make it less so. Here are some quick tips for survival.

  1. Parking: We suggest you definitely do not try to park in Manitou Springs. You can ignore us, but you will be sad. There are 12 busses running this year between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. at Rock Ledge Ranch. It’s FREE (you can donate to the Boy Scouts at Higginbotham and it has ADA support). We cannot stress enough how frustrating trying to park in Manitou Springs can be, but we’ve added helpful bullets to convince you. You will assuredly encounter:
    – Heavy Traffic
    – Construction Delays
    – No Parking or Very Limited and Inconvenient Parking
    – Parking Tickets (especially in residential areas)
    – Take the FREE shuttle and have lots of fun.
  2. Dress Like a Coloradan: Sure, the forecast may predict warm weather, but you are in the foothills, which means its chilly in the morning, particularly in the fall (and it’s fall). Bring layers so you can dress up or down to accommodate Mother Nature’s whims.
  3. Bring Water: We definitely want you to visit Manitou’s shops and restaurants, but we always advise water. There will be thousands of people and water can run out or lines could be longer than your thirst can bear. Bring a few bottles for everyone and a few snacks, too.
  4. Alternative to Shuttles: Biking (you can start at Buffalo Bike Lodge) or book a zTrip (use code SPOOKY18 and you will get first time users a $10 discount). Other rideshare should be directed to drop off at Memorial Park, 502 Manitou Ave. 
  5. Be Early: The shuttles have been improved, but there are always a few unexpected turns, no matter how well you plan. Hop on an earlier shuttle and arrive early. You can stake out a good spot, or just wander Manitou Springs until the parade. You will guarantee that you won’t miss out on a minute of the fun. 

This is honestly a can’t-miss experience. It’s thoroughly fitting for Halloween and packed with rich history, cool lore and a whole lot to do. As of publication, there is still a chance to form a team and race, too. So, if you aren’t in the mood for spectating, you can run a coffin down the avenue as thousands of fans cheer you on. However you choose to party, party safely and spookily. We’ll see you there!

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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.