Everyone has their own special brand of Halloween traditions. Some host scary movie marathons. Some read their favorite horror novel. Some carve pumpkins. In the small mountain town of Manitou Springs, Colorado, residents dress in costumes and race downhill in coffins fashioned into derby-style racecars. Even more bizarre, this odd display of Halloween frivolity was inspired by actual events.
Living in Colorado, you get used to hearing stories about people moving to the state for the health benefits of the crisp mountain air. As tuberculosis ravaged the country, more and more people would retreat to the mountains in hopes that the thinner air would help mend their ailing bodies. One such person was Emma Crawford. Crawford came to Manitou Springs in 1889, and ultimately lost her battle with tuberculosis in 1891. Her body was buried on one her favorite spots, Red Mountain. The thing about mountains is, as rain and snow falls on the slopes, they wear away. So in 1929, the decades of rain and wear on the over 7,000 foot slope unearthed Crawford’s casket and sent it sliding down the mountain. Only a few bones and various bits of the casket were ever found, and while some say Emma was immediately reburied in Crystal Valley Cemetery, others say her remains were stored for a couple of years before they were laid to rest again.
Regardless, it is a well-known bit of Manitou Springs lore that Emma still haunts Red Mountain to this day. Regardless of how long it took to lay Emma’s remains to rest for a second time, she has been reburied, and a memorial stone has been erected in the city in her honor. While most people stop their tributes with a memorial, Manitou Springs took things up a notch.
Coloradoans decided in 1995 to give Crawford’s ghost a show. After all, if you have to live the rest of your days wandering about a mountain, you might as well get a yearly show of stupid human tricks, costumes, family fun, and seasonal joys, right? The people of Manitou started the Emma Crawford Festival complete with a parade, ghost tours (Manitou Springs is full of creepy, ghost-filled stories), an annual wake for Emma, and of course, the Emma Crawford Coffin Races.
Citizens of Manitou and nearby Colorado Springs line up along the main historic street to watch the parade and then cheer on teams of individuals decked out in flashy costumes as they race their coffin-racecars down the streets and hills of the town. Though the family friendly festival and coffin races started in a dark place, Emma’s memory is honored each year by the city coming together and having a goofy, spooky good time together. I’d like to think that if Emma’s ghost really is still haunting Red Mountain, that she watched the races every year, rolling her eyes and laughing at us bizarre Coloradoans.
Have you ever been to the Emma Crawford Coffin Races? What weird Halloween traditions and urban legends come from your hometown? Let me know in the comments!