Every year nearly 10,000 people attend a festival commemorating the time a small town experienced what was basically an Edward Gorey cartoon come to life.
The poor, dear Emma Crawford was once a real live woman who came to the small town of Manitou Springs, Colorado in the late 1800s in search of a cure for her tuberculosis. Sadly, even the area’s legendary mineral springs could do her no good. While on her deathbed, Emma uttered to her lover, Mr. Hildebrand, a dying wish to be buried at the top of Red Mountain. Fulfilling her wishes to the best of his ability, here Emma laid until 1912, when evil railroad barons moved her body to the mountain’s south slope in order to make way for their trains. Shortly thereafter, terrible flooding eroded that spot of land, causing Emma’s casket to go shooting down the mountain into town, where a couple of boys found it, still labeled with the silver nameplate bearing her name.
Fast forward a few decades and a tradition was born out of commemorating Emma’s restless casket, where the crux of the sport lies in trying to put her back where she belongs.
What seems at first glance like a farcical day reveling in a darkly comic turn in a woman’s dying wish going unfulfilled, the Emma Crawford Coffin Race is bolstered in its sincerity by upholding a very strict set of rules. The day’s events, usually the last Saturday in October, begin promptly at noon, kicked off with the Parade of Coffins, replete with genuine hearses leading the way.
Teams consist of five individuals: four runners and one “Emma,” a.k.a. the body inside the coffin everyone on the team must push with all their might. The finish line is 195 yards away, all uphill from where the teams start. Two teams at a time compete against each other in heats, whereupon their times are recorded and compared against their fellow competitors… with one slight caveat: After a few years of running the Coffin Race, it was determined that all firefighters would henceforth compete in their own, separate heats with regards to the timed competition, in order to even the playing field.
Prizes are awarded for fastest time, Best Emma, Best Coffin, and Best Entourage, which means that even if dead sprints aren’t really your thing, that degree in theater and costuming may still land you an award in one of the nation’s most delightfully macabre festivals.
The fastest team represents Manitou Springs against the fastest team at Nederland’s Dead Guy Days where they compete for the coveted Coffin Cup. The winner takes the cup home to their city.