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Emma rides again

Coffins race down Manitou Avenue in bizarre historic ritual

Past participants in Manitou Springs annual Emma - Crawford Coffin Races.
  • Past participants in Manitou Springs annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races.

Manitou Springs is known for its artistic bent and quirky originality, but its peculiar celebrations are what really make the place unusual. There are post-Christmas Fruitcake Hurls, annual Carnivales, and springtime BubbleFests. But the most fearsome, funny and well-loved spectacular of all is back in town this Saturday: The Emma Crawford Wake and Coffin Races.

Yes, coffin races. Too often, death is treated with a sort of embarrassed, quiet, secondhand reverence. In Manitou, though, you can celebrate a freaky festival that encourages people to dress up, team up and charge through the town's main drag in wheeled coffins. Judges award trophies, T-shirts commemorate the event, and the town of Manitou Springs has been doing it for 10 years now.

Emma Crawford came to live in Manitou Springs in 1889, seeking a cure for her tuberculosis and planning to marry an engineer with the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Clear air and mineral waters helped Emma, and she often walked on and around Red Mountain, where she believed a spiritual Indian guide awaited her. When she died, her heartbroken fiance honored her wishes and, with 12 strong friends, had her buried at the summit she loved so well. But even granite mountains wear away, and after years of storms, casino traffic and erosion, Emma's coffin (including handles and nameplate) washed away down the side of the Red Mountain into town. She was reburied in Manitou Springs Cemetery, where, until this year, her grave remained unmarked. An unveiling of her brand-new headstone will occur Friday morning before the festivities commence.

Miramont Castle will host Emma's Wake on Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. Celebrants will enjoy sumptuous tearoom goodies, a historical vignette featuring some of Emma's contemporaries (such as Buffalo Bill Cody and his wife Diamond Lil), and a respectful Viewing of Emma, laid out in the parlor in Victorian splendor. Interested parties should contact Bob Yager at Miramont Castle: 685-1011.

Heavy breathing seems appropriate to commemorate a young woman who expired of tuberculosis, and 1K and 5K Mayor's Cup runs begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Registration and details are online at www. or on or before the day of the races at Kinfolks Mountain Outfitters, 685-4433.

Emmaphiles can get a further spectral fix after their foot and coffin races by taking a stroll and meeting spirits from historical times, each with a tale to tell. Emma's Favorite Haunts Ghost Tours leave every 15 minutes from City Hall (606 Manitou Ave.) on Saturday night from 7 to 9 p.m. Ticket proceeds ($9 for adults, $5 for kids 5-12) benefit the nonprofit group Historic Manitou, Inc.

All coffins, runners and Emma impersonators should report to the judging area at noon on Saturday. At 1:15 p.m., the Parade of Coffins commences, and at 1:30, the races start. (All Emmas must wear helmets.)

"My plan is just to grab a handle and run like hell," said Clint Robinson, runner for The Royal Tavern's coffin. Complete lists of rules and participants, as well as edifying information, hilarious anecdotes and pictures, are available at the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce.

-- J.N. Nail capsule The 10th annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races (and related events)

Friday and Saturday, Oct. 29 and 30

Downtown Manitou Springs

Coffin Races are free to watch (spectators are encouraged to wear costumes), and costs of other events are available at the number below.

Contact the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce, 685-5089 or e-mail

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