Oct. 24, 2015 was a picture perfect autumn day in Manitou Springs for the 21st annual Emma Crawford Festival, held annually in October to celebrate the legend of the floating coffin. Participants race in teams of five in homemade coffins mounted on wheels. Each team has four runners and one Emma Crawford to drive the cart. Two teams at a time race up Manitou Avenue to the roundabout near the start of Ruxton Avenue. Times for each team are kept and the team with the fastest time is declared the victor and receives the winner’s trophy. Prizes are also awarded to the teams with the best entourage and best coffin.
The races have been held each year since 1995 in remembrance of the late Emma Crawford who passed away in Manitou Springs long ago. The following Emma Crawford history is provided by the official Manitou Springs website: “Who is Emma Crawford, you ask? Emma Crawford was a young woman who came to Manitou Springs in the late 1800’s. She was sick with tuberculosis and in search of Manitou’s healing mineral springs for a cure. Before sweet Emma fell ill and passed away in 1890, she made her fiancee promise to bury her on top of Red Mountain. Mr. Hildebrand honored Emma’s wish when she passed away before their wedding. Emma rested peacefully until 1912 when her coffin had to be removed because the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company decided to build an incline to the mountain top.
Emma was reburied on the south slope of the mountain for the construction of the railway. After several years of rain and harsh weather conditions, Emma’s coffin was no longer under the ground. Erosion had taken its toll and caused Emma’s remains to slide down the mountain and into the canyon below. Two young boys found her name plate, the silver handles from her casket, and her bones after a rain storm. With no family members or heartbroken Mr. Hildebrand around to claim her remains, the city buried her in Crystal Park Cemetery. Some say that you can see a young woman in a Victorian dress on top of Red Mountain looking lonesome every now and then.”.
This year’s field of 70 teams was definitely fast and furious with some amazing engineering going into many of the coffins designed for maximum speed. The Avenue Hotel Gravestoners coffin sponsored by the Avenue Hotel Bed and Breakfast sported racing wheels with porcelain bearings and team runner David Kanefsky commented that “It felt like the coffin was going to float away!”, perhaps like the original Emma coffin on it’s watery journey down from Red Mountain. Team MGA Pediatric Home Healthcare proved itself to be the swiftest of all, taking first place with a blazing fast time of 25.01 seconds on the 195 yard course to the finish line at the roundabout on Manitou Avenue. Second place was awarded to Team Vosler with a respectable time of 26.71 seconds and third place went to the Sabaru Import Motors team with a time of 27.05 seconds. Unfortunately the Boodad’s Louisiana Cafe team was disqualified for accidentally going out of the defined racing lanes. Teams not winning place prizes were rewarded with a beautiful Colorado autumn afternoon and a spectacular good time delighting spectators and other race participants with colorful coffins and costumes.
The races were followed by live music and a barbecue at the Soda Springs Park and Pavilion near the roundabout. Local brew pubs and restaurants were also packed with revelers following the event and a large crowd descended upon the barbecue at the American Legion post as well. The Emma Crawford festival was a huge success for the city of Manitou Springs and Emma can rest in peace for another year.