Sunday, September 14, 2014

Remembering Emma Crawford

Manitou Springs and Red Mountain
For the past twenty years, the small Colorado town of Manitou Springs has hosted a wonderful, fun and weird celebratory festival during the last weekend in October. This party is thrown to honor Emma Crawford-- the town’s oldest ghost.

Healing Waters and Fresh Air

The Crawford family in the 1880s became the focus of Boston’s music elite. Madam Crawford was a graduate of Germany’s prestigious Leipzig Academy of Music.

Inspired by her mother’s love of music, Emma, the oldest Crawford daughter, became an accomplished concert pianist. But tragically just after her first major concert was heralded at Washington Square in 1887 Emma fell ill.

At the age of seven, Emma had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and years of living in a sizeable grimy city had taken its toll on her health.

Emma Crawford
Madam Crawford following the lead of many other easterners packed up Emma and her younger daughter and the trio traveled to Manitou Springs Colorado.

The dry fresh alpine air and the springs located in this town were said to do wonders for those who suffered from TB.

The three women settled into Crystal Cottage where Emma could convalesce.

Emma from her attic room had a view of the summit of Red Mountain and she became enamored with the local legends about an Indian Chief’s spirit that was said to haunt the mountain--she secretly named this spirit Red Chief.

She became determined that once she recovered, she would hike to the summit of Red Mountain.

The new climate did agree with Emma, and her condition greatly improved. Out in society once more she met a construction engineer, Wilhelm Hildebrandt who worked for the Manitou and Pike’s Peak Cog railroad.

A Promise

The two fell in love and Wilhelm purposed to Emma. Now engaged, Emma asked her fiancé for one promise. Considering her health, she requested that if she died before him that he bury her on the summit of Red Mountain.

A few months before the pairs’ wedding Emma had a vision in which Red Chief summoned her to the top of Red Mountain. Feeling he was her spirit guide, she climbed to the top of the mountain.

View from atop Red Mountain
Before she began her descent back down the mountain, she tied her handkerchief to the branch of an ancient pinion tree. * She then raced down the hillside wanting to share with all, her adventurous experience.

But her illness overtook her, and she struggled back to Crystal Cottage shivering with a high fever.

Her mother called for the doctor but there was little he could do. As she lay dying in her mother’s arms, Emma asked her to remind Wilhelm of his promise to bury her on Red Mountain’s summit.

Wilhelm heartbroken, followed through on his promise but not without surmounting difficulties that included: frozen ground, rights to the land and men who threatened to leave the summit before Emma was buried.

*  Later her handkerchief was found on this tree making this part of the story more than a legend.

A Thrill Ride

Emma would probably still rest in peace, but for the fact, her grave was moved and then washed down the mountain.

In 1912, the railroad developed the Red Mountain Incline and constructed a powerhouse and depot--at which point Emma’s coffin was moved to the east side of the mountain.

A concrete slab with her name was placed over this new grave, and this railroad line started to charge tourists one dollar to ride up to see Emma’s grave in hopes they might see her ghost.

Red Mountain Incline Rail Line
On the way back down this rail line became a thrill ride because it was built on a steep incline with an eighty percent grade. Riders literally screamed on the way down.
In 1927, after a few seasons this line was shut down for safety concerns.

Shortly after this, a flood washed Emma’s coffin down the mountain. A couple of boys found her skull and the brass nameplate from her coffin. What could be found was buried in the Crystal Springs Cemetery in Manitou Springs.

This was directly against Emma’s last wish. Ironically, it was at this point that hikers actually began to report seeing Emma’s ghost wandering the summit of Red Mountain.

She is described as a woman with dark hair, and she is sometimes seen wearing her wedding dress, which she was buried in.

A Benevolent Ghost

Emma’s ghost is considered to be benevolent. Locals feel that she looks after their town from high atop her mountain.

In 1993, the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce decided to pay homage to their beloved ghost with a festival.

Since thousands of Colorado residents attend this whacky and fun festival held close to Halloween every year.

This celebration includes: coffin races, hearse parades, ghost walks and a more sedate traditional Victorian wake for Emma held at Miramont Castle. 

Emma Crawford Festival
Here is a video that shows race.

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