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Get your freak on at Manitou Springs' coffin races

October 25, 2017 Updated: October 27, 2017 at 7:55 am
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The 300 Days of Shine team runs down Manitou Avenue Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, during the 19th annual Emma Crawford Coffin Race and Parade in Manitou Springs. See Gazette.com for a photo gallery. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Jenna Gallas says she spoke recently with Emma Crawford, who's been dead for 126 years now. This was during a session at Manitou Metaphysical where the medium channeled the village's lingering soul.

"She said, 'Emma, how do you feel about the coffin race that's been happening 23 years in town?'" recalls Gallas, special events coordinator for the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce. "She said she loved it. She's totally happy with it. The only thing is she would like to see more music from that time, that Victorian era."

Perhaps something to consider for next year.

For Saturday, Gallas has scheduled a performance by Dragondeer, a Denver band specializing in psychedelic blues, that should pair well with the funky surroundings.

Fifty costumed teams have signed up to push coordinating "coffins" 195 yards down Manitou Avenue, continuing the Halloween tradition that also celebrates the town's unending weirdness. Examples from the past include an old woman in a shoe, which was pushed by a group of men in lederhosen, and hillbillies steering an occupied outhouse. Other teams have been anchored by oompa loompas and smurfs, clowns and zombies.

For a day Manitou is "unlike anywhere else in the world," Gallas says. And the day doesn't end with the afternoon parade and dash. What follows is a full-blown monster mash, as the spirited spectators who lined the street fill the downtown restaurants and bars into the night and raise a glass to Emma Crawford.

She moved to the foot of Pikes Peak in 1889, seeking the "healing air" but died two years later of tuberculosis. The Manitou Springs Heritage Center displays grainy pictures of her burial atop Red Mountain and maintains the legend of boys finding her remains, which supposedly rushed down the mountainside after a rainstorm.

The center will be the starting point of "ghost tours" featuring "spirit guides" who will show people around town for 45 minutes, stopping at sites where actors will play out tales of the colorful past.

"Manitou was full of witchcraft," Gallas says. "Not that it is anymore, but I think people still like to believe ooky-spooky happens here, and if we're gonna celebrate Halloween, we're gonna do it in Manitou, where the freaks come out every day."

Don't drive into town Saturday, as Manitou Avenue will be closed. Park at Coronado High School, Rock Ledge Ranch or Higginbotham Flats to catch a free shuttle every 15-20 minutes to the festivities, Gallas said.

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