For awhile, the treatment, popular for many East Coasters, seemed to be working, and Emma's condition improved. It was during this period of hope that Emma's close friend and suitor, Wilhelm (William) Hildebrand, asked for Emma's hand in marriage. As the story goes, Emma actually met Wilhelm while living in Boston. He became smitten with her and moved to the area to work for a local railroad company...and to presumably be with his young love. Emma was hesitant, but accepted his proposal on the condition that if the tuberculosis were to take her life, he'd make sure she was buried on nearby Red Mountain.
Emma had developed almost an obsession with Red Mountain. It is said that during her times of sickness, she'd lie in her bed and look out her window at the peak of Red Mountain in the distance. Emma became convinced that the spirit of an Indian, Red Chief, roamed the mountain. This obsession would ultimately lead to Emma's demise.
In December of 1891, just weeks before she was to be married, nineteen year old Emma took her good health as a sign to hike up to the top of Red Mountain. She made it to the top, where she claims that the spirit of Red Chief appeared before her beside a pinion tree. She tied her handkerchief to this tree, then hurried back down to tell everyone of her wonderful adventure. Unfortunately, the over-exertion was just too taxing on her health and she lapsed into a near-delirium before finally succumbing peacefully in her mother's arms.
Wilhelm kept his word and gathered a team of a dozen men to help him bring Emma up the mountain. It was a difficult undertaking but finally Emma was at peace where she wanted to spend her eternity...but she wouldn't stay that way for long.
In 1912, her grave was moved to make room for a railroad project. She actually became somewhat of a tourist destination, as passengers would pay $1 for a thrill ride trip that included an 80% downward incline and a chance to see Emma's ghost. Even after just a short decade following her death, Emma's grave was being visited by other Spiritualists who hoped to contact her spirit and the others said to roam Red Mountain. However, due to safety concerns, the railroad project was shut down in 1927 and Emma's grave was largely neglected.
Two years later, the heavy rains of late summer washed Emma's casket and remains down the mountain and into the canyon below, where her skull and pieces of coffin were discovered by two young boys. After sitting in storage while the family was attempted to be contacted, Emma would eventually be buried in what is now Crystal Valley Cemetery. Her remains were never claimed by family; instead, Bill Crosby who took piano lessons from Emma as a child and whose grandfather was one of her pallbearers, claimed her body. Her grave was unmarked until 2004 when a memorial stone was erected in her honor.
Today, people claim that the apparition of a dark haired beauty wearing a ragged wedding dress is seen roaming the area of Red Mountain, never to rest until she is returned to her original resting spot. As a way to memorialize Emma and to appease her spirit, the town of Manitou Springs celebrates in a very unique way. Since 1994, the town has hosted annual Halloween coffin races! Participants dress up as Emma and create unique coffin vehicles, which they then race, reminiscent of the "ride" Emma and her coffin took down the mountain. In more recent years, a period-correct wake and funeral are also held for Emma in the historic Miramont Castle.
*This year's Coffin Races will be held on Saturday, October 26th! This event has been featured on the Travel Cemetery and many other media outlets and is celebrating its 19th season this year with a parade, the races, and much more! Check out the race's FB page for more info*
More info on the story of Emma can be found in the book Haunted Manitou Springs, by Stephanie Waters