Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Who was Emma Crawford?

   She was a young lady who died of tuberculosis near the end of the 19th century. In 1889, Emma and her family moved to Manitou Springs (where they lived on Ruxton Avenue) in the hopes that the local mineral springs (from which the city took its name) and the mountain air might be a cure for her illness. This belief was not unusual at the time and many people suffering from the disease found their way to Manitou Springs.
   Emma and her family were spiritualists. Both Emma and her mother believed that they had Native American spirits that guided them (fittingly the city of Manitou Springs also takes its name from Native American spirit lore). It is said that Emma hiked to the top of Red Mountain and had a vision there. In her vision, her spirit guide appeared near the summit. The story has it that she tied a scarf to a tree at the spot. Her dying wish was to be buried right there.
   Emma was engaged to William Hildebrand, a railway engineer, prior to moving to Manitou Springs. William relocated to Manitou Springs to be with her, but she passed away before they could be wed. Emma died at the age of 19 on December 4, 1891. 
   Her fiance and a team of 12 other stalwart pallbearers made sure she got her wish (even though they didn't have legal permission). It took them two days to carry her coffin to the top of the mountain. There she was buried and there she stayed... for years, but not forever. In the years that followed, her grave site became a popular hiking spot for fellow spiritualists. They are said to have visited the spot in the hopes of

Emma Crawford

communicating with Emma's spirit. In 1912, Emma's grave was relocated to the Southern slope when a railroad was built going up the mountain. Ironically, railroad engineers undid that which had been done by one of their own. Once again, however, this would not be Emma's final resting place. Her move was a double disaster. The railroad was a failure and moving Emma's remains left her vulnerable to the effects of erosion.
   The granite of the mountain eroded with each passing storm and eventually Emma's coffin became unearthed. In August of 1929, severe rains caused her coffin and remains to slide down the 7,200 foot mountain, breaking the coffin apart in the ordeal. There in the canyon below, her skull and other bones were discovered by two local boys.

   They brought the remains to the city hall. One story has it that she was reburied immediately. However, there is another story that says Emma's restless remains stayed in storage for 2 years as the city tried in vain to find surviving relatives. Finally, one of her pallbearers, Bill Crosby, took responsibility for her remains. It was then that she was interred once again at Crystal Valley Cemetery. Either way, she was buried in an unmarked grave. In 2004 (10 years after her memorial festival began) the city provided Emma with a memorial stone.

   It is believed by some that Emma's ghost haunts the slopes of Red Mountain. Some say that she won't rest until her body is finally returned to the resting place she chose for herself. The story was included in the Haunted Rockies episode of the Haunted History TV show.

The Festival

   Since 1994, the city has honored Emma Crawford with an annual festival. The Emma Crawford Festival features a parade in her honor as well as the Emma Crawford Memorial Coffin Race. Teams with five members each (one coffin-rider and four runners) compete in the race with wheeled coffins (Wheels can be no larger than 6 inches in diameter) and wild costumes. Creativity in design can be as important as speed in the judging of the race. Besides awards for first, second and third place in the race, there are awards for best coffin and best "Emma" (the rider). The race follows a coffin parade to show off the designs and costumes of each "Emma" and her four "mourners." The parade is led by a number of hearses.

   There are other aspects to the festival as well. There is the Ghosts of Old Manitou Walking Tour. The lantern-lit tour is led by costumed guides. Tours last 45 minutes and regale customers with tales of local ghost lore and history. The Ghosts of Old Manitou Walking Tour is run by the non-profit organization Historic Manitou Springs, Inc. There are also more tours available through Blue Moon Haunted History Tours, including the Ghost Busters Tour and the Hounds from Hell Lantern Tour. The cemetery in which Emma is currently buried offers a Grave Undertakings Tour complete with actors portraying Emma and other historical or eccentric folks who are likewise interred in the graveyard. The cemetery offers tours (minus the actors) at other times throughout the year as well. Check web sites listed below (see Related Sites) for details on tours. The city has also held other foot races the same day as the coffin race in the past.

   Another event takes place the night prior to the races. Emma Crawford's Victorian Wake is held at Miramont Castle. The castle (a former sanatarium which is reputedly haunted) was built four years after Emma's demise and is an example of the Victorian era in which Emma lived her life. The wake features Victorian food and beverages as well as actors portraying the castle's original inhabitants Father Jean Baptist Francolon and his mother Marie. The Francolons' guests for the wake include famous historical figures such as "Wild Bill" Hickok. "Emma", herself, is laid out for those attending the wake.    

   The annual events are always held the weekend prior to Halloween. The Emma Crawford Festival was featured on the Fine Living Network's television special Freakiest Festivals.

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