Ah, Manitou. You weirdo. Did you know the slogan for Manitou is “Keep Manitou Weird”? And at no time is this more evident than during October.
Between the town’s quirkiness and being surrounded by endless costumed people, walking down Manitou Ave. feels like you’ve been transported to Halloweentown (in the best possible way).
One event, in particular, brings together the whole town (and several thousand more): the annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races & Festival.
So… Who is Emma Crawford?
Poor Emma Crawford. She came to Manitou Springs in 1889 hoping that the area’s famous mineral springs and fresh mountain air would cure her of tuberculosis. Unfortunately, she succumbed to her illness in 1891. Her dying wish was to be laid to rest at the top of Red Mountain.
Mr. William Hildebrand, her beau, fulfilled this wish with the help of eleven townspeople, who carried Emma 7,200 feet up the mountain to her final resting place.
That is, until 1929 when, after being moved for construction taking place nearby and years of harsh storms, Emma and her coffin came rushing down the mountain. The children who stumbled upon the remains only found the casket handles, a silver nameplate bearing her name, and a few bones.
The Coffin Races
“You turned a dead lady’s story into a festival?”
In 1994, looking to boost tourism, a group of officials realized they could use the local legend and landed the idea of a race to honor Emma’s mountainside run (I can only imagine how that pitch went). In 1995, the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce started the first coffin race in the nation.
Nowadays, the Festival kicks off with the Parade of Coffins at noon, where the teams show off their costumes and coffins, surrounded by locals in outfits both simple and outrageous. The race starts immediately after the parade.
Each team is made up of five contestants, four runners who will push the decorated coffin, and one Emma who has to stay inside the coffin during the 195-yard uphill sprint, all while in costume. The essence of the race is to put Emma back where she belongs.
The fastest time gets a prize and a trophy, as do Best Coffin, Best Emma, and Best Entourage.
The fastest team also represents Manitou Springs in the competition against the fastest team from Nederland’s Dead Guy Days, where the winner gets to take the Coffin Cup home to their city until the next event.
After the race, winners are announced at Soda Springs Park, and the fun continues with live music, local vendor booths, and themed food and drink specials at the restaurants and bars, and lots more to do. It’s like a town-wide Halloween party, and believe me, you don’t want to miss it.
This year marked the Festival’s 25th year. 72 teams gathered to parade and race, with thousands cheering them on.
The Mystery Inc. team had the fastest time this year and went on to race against Hosen Dead Guys from Nederland. The Coffin Cup stays in Manitou another year!
Clockwise from top left: Fastest time: Scooby and the Gang (Adams Mtn Cafe Sponsor); Best Entourage: Green Army Men; Best Emma: The Green Fairy Flies Again; Best Coffin: Day of the Dead (Border Burger Bar).
Would you want to go to this event?