coffin hood

Photo Credit: Jarp. File photo. (iStock)

Each year, thousands of people are drawn to the tiny town of Manitou Springs for its annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races and Festival. They gather to watch as decorated "racing" coffins and their often eccentric drivers hurl down Manitou Avenue.  

This year, the event will be celebrating its 27th annual return on October 29, but what some may not know is that the race has a bit of a spooky past and is inspired by a much older true story.                

Emma Crawford, the namesake of the event, was a musician that called the Pikes Peak region home between 1889 and 1891. It is believed that Emma moved to Manitou Springs with her mother in search of a cure for tuberculosis, which she had suffered from since childhood. They hoped that the town's famous mineral springs accompanied by the dry mountain air would offer a solution. 

"It is said that next to music, nature was Emma’s second love, and she could be seen in a red dress climbing Red Mountain, which she nicknamed 'Red Chief,' in honor of American Indians," according to the Emma Crawford Coffin Races and Festival website. 

There are several accounts that suggest that during her life, Emma requested to be buried atop Red Mountain when she died. 

In 1891, Crawford succumbed to her illness and her burial requests were honored. 

"The gray casket with silver handles and a silver engraved nameplate was reportedly carried to a hearse and driven up four blocks on Ruxton Avenue. Then, a group of twelve pallbearers worked in two shifts to transport Emma’s casket to the top of Red Mountain," the website says.

In August of 1929, following a series of snowy winters and harsh rainy seasons, two young boys came across a human skull at the base of the mountain. Upon further investigation, police discovered that the skull, and several other bones that later were found, belonged to Crawford. It appeared that that her sarcophagus has been unearthed by weather and slid, or raced, down the mountain side. 

Sixty-six years later, the Emma Crawford Coffin Races were born. Though it may seem a bit morbid, the races are a beloved tradition in Manitou Springs and celebrate the memory of an esteemed resident. 

According to a 2018 report from the Colorado Springs Gazette, a psychic medium, named Sylvia Jaye Garcia, spoke to Crawford from beyond the grave with the a few representatives from the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce. 

“She does appreciate the coffin races,” Garcia said in a recorded voice file.

“It’s like she’s actually sitting on one (coffin), like she’s proud. It’s like there’s this coffin, and it’s got trim with gold on the edges. She’s sitting on it, her whole dress is draping over it. She’s sitting there with her hat.”

To read more spooky and true stories from Colorado, check out this list

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