COBWEB CORNERS: The Emma Crawford story

By Mel McFarland

       Back in 1929 the story of Emma Crawford's coffin really got started. Boys playing on Red Mountain had found bones they assumed were from a deer, but then they found part of a human skull! The coroner and sheriff investigated. The old Red Mountain Incline had been closed many years, and a few bits of it still remained. Up at the top of the mountain they spotted more bones, including a dress and more of the skull. The men gathered up the bones and took them to Manitou.
       A story in the paper soon brought results. Old-timers remembered the story of Emma Crawford and her mother, who had come to Manitou for their health. Emma had walked the area regularly and felt that the mountains held special powers. It is said there was a romantic connection between Emma and Mr. Hiltbrand, who was in town in 1889 assisting in the engineering of the new cog railway to Pikes Peak's summit. When she died in 1891, at about age 30, she wanted to be buried on the top of Red Mountain. This was done with quite a ceremony. It took 12 men to carry the coffin to the resting spot.
       When the Incline was built in 1912, her grave was near the route, and it was moved away from the tracks. A platform and other buildings were built on the top of the mountain. Visitors on the railway could view the grave, and look down on Manitou.
       The railway was closed in less than a decade. It was offered for sale, but there were no buyers. In 1919, some of the timber work was finally taken down. Not much was thought of Emma's grave. It seems over the years the grave had eroded away, and little by little was slipping down the mountainside toward Manitou. After the children playing on the mountain discovered the bones, the story started to grow!
       In 1994, Manitou organized the first Emma Crawford Coffin Race to remember the young lady's fate. Emma's bones, at least all that could be located, were placed at Crystal Valley Cemetery, where a memorial was dedicated in 2004. Indeed the story of Emma Crawford sometimes gets lost in the story of the Coffin Race, but she was a real person, with quite a story of her own.