‘Coffin races’ eyed for Riverhead Halloween Festival

Riverhead may soon have coffin races, like those held in a mountain town in Colorado.

In the spirit of the popular cardboard boat races, the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association (BIDMA) has a similar idea up its sleeve for Halloween.

Diane Tucci, the BIDMA’s executive director, is in the early stages of trying to organize “coffin races” on the Sunday of the BID’s Oct. 28-29 Halloween Festival.

A coffin race?

A group of four “pallbearers” push a coffin on wheels — with a (live) body in it — in a race against other coffin-pushing teams.

The participants, she said, would be dressed in Halloween-themed costumes and may also participate in the annual Halloween parade on the prior night.

Coffin racing has been particularly successful in Manitou Springs, Colorado, where they will be having their 23rd annual Emma Crawford Coffin Race and Parade this October.

Emma Crawford was a woman who died of tuberculosis and was buried – per her wishes – on top of a 7,000-foot mountain in 1890. Her remain were later moved to another spot on the mountain. But several years of rain and harsh weather  caused her coffin to slide down the mountain and into a canyon, according to local reports at the time.

Riverhead does not have a similar story, but Ms. Tucci is hoping to replicate the success that the Colorado event has had.

“More than 10,000 people come to the event in Manitou Springs,” she said.

“The coffin race is part of a much larger festival there,” BIDMA member Nancy Kouris said at Wednesday’s BIDMA meeting, where coffin racing was briefly discussed.

Ms. Tucci said she’s looked at the rules for coffin racing events that are held throughout the country and most are similar. There has to be four “pallbearers,” at least three of whom have to have a hand on the coffin at all times, and there’s no steering. The wheels also have to be a certain size. Often, she said, the “coffins” are made out of dressed-up shopping carts.

Where this event would take place has not been decided, other than that is should take place within the BID, Ms. Tucci said.

In Manitou Springs, they also have a contest to design a commemorative tee shirt for the event, and the winner gets a Halloween-themed trophy, Ms. Tucci said, suggesting Riverhead do likewise.

“I love it,” BIDMA member Bob Hartmann said.

“I think it has to be very well thought out so that it’s safe, and not too difficult,” BIDMA member Larry Oxman said.

A sort-of similar event was held in Polish Town in Aug. 2002, when the Riverhead Lions Club and Chamber of Commerce held a “charity bed race,” in which competitors dressed in themed costumes and had four people pushing a bed with one person riding. That event was only done that one year.

The BIDMA ran the Halloween Festival on its own last year, and will do so again this year. In the two years prior to last year, it was run by St. George Living History Productions of Medford as the “Edgar Allan Poe Festival.”

The cardboard boat race, run in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce and the town, drew more than 1,500 people on Aug. 6, which officials said is slightly less than usual due to the fact that it was cancelled last year over fears of a potential fish kill in the Peconic River.

Ms. Tucci said they are planning to move the cardboard boat event to a Saturday next year, while keeping the date is early August.

The BIDMA’s Alive on 25 event, in its second year, has been very successful, despite a rainout in its first week, and drew more than 8,000 people last week, according to Ms. Tucci.

It will next be held on Aug. 24, and the rainout will be made up on Aug. 31.

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Courtesy photos: Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce