Manitou Spring’s Mystic Sisters and Redstone Castle

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine.

Photo credit: Rufus Porter

Manitou Springs, Colorado has long been known as a haven to hauntings and the supernatural. It is no wonder, when one considers such odd and wonderful treasures as the Redstone Castle. As one of Manitou’s many intriguing landmarks, the castle and its history exude the macabre charm that embraces the city even today.

Redstone Castle’s charming history begins with the mysterious Crawford sisters, Emma and Alice. Emma and her mother first appeared in Manitou during the late 1880’s, residing on Ruxton Avenue. Like so many, young Emma initially came to Manitou seeking relief from tuberculosis in the high mountain air. Her fiancé, one Mr. Hildebrand or Hiltbrand, was working as a civil engineer for the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad. Recuperating by way of much rest and little exercise, Emma spent much of her time concentrating on her psychic powers. The occult was a vivid fascination in the Victorian era, and the fact that Emma and her family were professed psychics was thought more intriguing than strange in a place like Manitou.

One day in 1890, Emma claimed her Indian spirit guide had enticed her to climb nearby Red Mountain, a feat she accomplished despite her illness. Evidence of the climb came in the form of Emma’s red scarf, which she tied to a tree at the top. She died that summer, just before she was to be married. Wanting to fulfill Emma’s dying wish to be buried on Red Mountain, her fiancé tried to buy some ground atop the mountain. Unable to do so, Hildebrand hired twelve friends to carry the casket up there anyway, and Emma was buried at her beloved spot. Soon, stories of Emma’s ghost wandering around Red Mountain began circulating, and her grave became such a popular attraction that fellow spiritualists wore a trail to get there.

Emma’s mother remained in Manitou after her daughter’s death. She was eventually joined by Emma’s younger sister Alice in 1908. Alice was a budding actress whose career had been interrupted by a marriage. Upon her arrival in Manitou, Alice sought comfort from her impending divorce from her husband, a man named Snow, by renting Redstone Castle on top of Iron Mountain. The remote mansion, located only a short distance from Emma’s grave, was just the ticket for getting one’s head together.

Or was it?

Redstone Castle was actually constructed in 1890 as a model home for the Manitou Terrace housing development. Built by brothers Robert and William A. Davis, the sons of developer Isaac Davis who first arrived in 1874, the castle was meant to draw real estate investors and residents to Manitou. The three-story exterior consisted of native red sandstone and included a beautiful turret with tiny gable windows in the top and two beautiful covered porches. Eighteen rooms with ten-foot ceilings and six-foot high windows allowed for a spacious and well lit interior. Nine tower windows provided breathtaking views of Manitou and Garden of the Gods. Woodcarver Sam Yarnell was commissioned to install the beautiful woodwork inside. It was a truly exquisite home.

Despite the grand prototype, however, no lots were ever sold at Manitou Terrace. Builder William Davis was probably the first occupant of the castle, but it was being leased out by the time Alice Crawford arrived. Despite her dead sister’s fame, nobody seems to have thought much about Alice and Redstone Castle. But when the eccentric divorcee began hosting seances, stories of eerie goings-on and ghosts at the castle became rampant. Some theorize that Alice’s acting abilities helped her stage her seances, which included mysterious sounds, odd lights and dancing furniture. One regular attendee was W.S. Cosby, one of the dozen men who had carried Emma Crawford’s casket to the top of Red Mountain. Cosby remembered “tables and chairs walking all over the place and all sorts of funny sounds coming from different places.” Alice’s mother also claimed to hear Emma playing the grand piano on numerous occasions, even though her daughter had never lived in the castle.

The wild tales about Alice Crawford and her dead sister did little to enhance the actress’ career. In 1910 the lonely lady tired of life and attempted suicide at the castle. It was a badly bungled attempt. Alice only succeeded in shooting herself in the knee and setting her bed on fire. The media jumped on the incident in typical dramatic fashion with a headline reading, “Woman in Flames and Shot in Bleak ‘House of Mystery.’” Not long afterwards Alice left Manitou forever, leaving behind a debt of nine months’ rent.

Incidentally, neither Alice or her mother appear in census records for 1900, nor 1910. Emma also fails to appear on record, although a 1969 newspaper article featured her photograph. The only clues to the Crawford ladies lie in a mysterious woman named Jennett Crawford, who appears in the 1900 census as a boarder with William and Emma Hooper. Curiously, the record neglects to give any information about her, including her age, birthplace or occupation. The first name of Mother Crawford remains unknown. There is no record of Alice’s divorce and where the women even came from is still a mystery.

In the wake of Alice’s departure, Emma’s grave once more gained notoriety when the Louisville & Nashville Railroad made a failed attempt to build an incline railroad to the summit of Red Mountain in 1912, complete with a casino. Emma’s burial spot was in its path, so her casket was exhumed and moved to the south slope of the mountain. Then in August of 1929, two boys found part of Emma’s skull exposed after a particularly rainy summer. Authorities gathered the remains and stored them at Manitou City Hall while trying in vain to find her mother or sister. In 1931, Emma was buried a third time—this time, in Manitou’s Crystal Valley Cemetery. The grave is unmarked and no trace of her sister or mother was ever found, adding to the mystery surrounding the Crawford girls and Redstone Castle.

In the years since, Redstone Castle has been the subject of ghost lore and high school dares while serving as a private residence and occasionally, a bed and breakfast. It is also amazingly well preserved, its various owners recognizing its beauty and significance. They say the ghost of Alice Crawford is still there, despite her unhappy experiences while living in the castle. As for Emma, she is remembered each Halloween when Manitou Springs hosts its annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races, a tradition since 1994.

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