By Isobel Steenrod
Last Saturday, hordes of costumed people young and old gathered in Manitou Springs for the 25th annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races. In 1891, Emma Crawford died of tuberculosis after moving to Manitou for the supposed healing benefits of the springs. Her last wish was to be buried on top of nearby Red Mountain. In 1929, after a season of heavy rain, her coffin came racing down the mountain back into Manitou Springs, and supposedly, her ghost still haunts the town. Since 1995, Manitou Springs has been honoring her legend every fall.
The Coffin Races followed the noon Halloween parade. Contestants raced down Main Street as spectators lined the sidewalks, and every restaurant was bursting with intricately-costumed people. There were at least 12 live music setups along the street, even while two emcees announced the race. Judges looked on to rank the coffins based on speed and style.
I felt out of place in my Colorado College t-shirt amidst the number of eccentric costumes I was weaving through. My favorites were Eleven from “Stranger Things,” a realistic Joaquin Phoenix Joker, three separate dogs dressed as hot dogs, a Queen of Hearts with a bloody gash in her neck, someone whose face was stapled together, an angry golf-ball, a man dressed as a mouse sticking out of a beer can, and a friend group that dressed as all the characters from “Futurama.”
To compete in the Coffin Races, teams of four run slightly uphill, with a fifth person riding inside the homemade coffin. The teams must keep three runners on the coffin and three wheels on the ground, or they face disqualification.
I watched the winning team cross the finish line at 25.1 seconds with chests heaving. They all dressed up as Scooby-Doo, and the coffin was painted like the Mystery Machine.
Many of the coffins represented local businesses, but CC also entered a team this year. Competing for the CC team “Tigers on Ice” was Liza Huschle ’20, Paul Olsen ’21, alumnus Antonio Soto ’19, the current paraprofessional for campus activities, Isaac Kubik of Events Staff, and Jo Meechan from the Career Center. This is the second year the CC team has competed in the event, after the carpentry shop custom built the Zomboni coffin last year. The team practiced before the race by running down Cascade. Last year, CC placed 26th, so their 8th place finish this year, with a time of 27.6 seconds, was a huge improvement.
The Emma Crawford Coffin Race is like going to a big fall festival. I overheard one attendee say, at two in the afternoon, “We’ve been here since nine this morning, we done hit all the bars.”
Most of all, the Coffin Races are quintessentially Manitou: a mix of unique traditions, supernatural beliefs, and eccentric residents.