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The Burning of Zozobra is a unique cultural event staged annually during the historic Fiestas de Santa Fe

David Goran

Zozobra (“Old Man Gloom”) is a fifty-foot marionette that is built and burned on the first weekend in September, following Labor Day, during the historic Fiestas de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The celebration of Fiestas is the oldest civic celebrations of their kind in North America and originated in 1712 to celebrate the Spanish retaking of the city in 1692 by Don Diego de Vargas from the Pueblo tribes after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

However, the burning of Zozobra was not originally part of Fiestas de Santa Fe.

The Burning of Zozobra is staged each year on the Friday before Labor Day  Photo Credit

The Burning of Zozobra is staged each year on the Friday before Labor Day  Photo Credit

The idea of Zozobra grew out of a gang of Santa Fe deep-thinkers who met at the so-called “Society of Quien Sabe”. Inspired by the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico, the local artist and marionette maker, William Howard Shuster, Jr (1893-1969), crafted the first Zozobra in 1924 and since then it has become one of the symbols of the city and one of the most highly-anticipated events.

Zozobra’s body is a well-crafted framework of milled lumber, covered with dozens of rolls of chicken wire and over 70 yards of muslin  Photo Credit

Zozobra’s body is a well-crafted framework of milled lumber, covered with dozens of rolls of chicken wire and over 70 yards of muslin  Photo Credit

 

1947 Film Noir, Ride the Pink Horse, Robert Montgomery  Photo Credit

1947 Film Noir, Ride the Pink Horse, Robert Montgomery  Photo Credit

Shuster and his friend, E. Dana Johnson, editor of the local newspaper, came up with the name Zozobra, which was defined as “anguish, anxiety, gloom” in Spanish or as the “gloomy one”.

By burning this giant marionette, made of muslin and stuffed with hundreds of bags of shredded paper (which traditionally includes obsolete police reports, paid-off mortgages, and even divorce papers), people destroy the worries and troubles of the previous year in the flames.

As Old Man Gloom burns, it is said that with him go the feelings of gloom and doom from the past year  Photo Credit

As Old Man Gloom burns, it is said that with him go the feelings of gloom and doom from the past year  Photo Credit

 

Even the Santa Fe city police department donates thousands of police reports of shredded police reports  Photo Credit

Even the Santa Fe city police department donates thousands of police reports of shredded police reports  Photo Credit

 

The festival is so popular that children arrive in the park in the morning to watch Zozobra’s assembly  Photo Credit

The festival is so popular that children arrive in the park in the morning to watch Zozobra’s assembly  Photo Credit

The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe became officially involved with Old Man Gloom in 1964 when the creator Will Shuster gave his detailed model (also an archive of drawings and scripts) and assigned all rights to the Club to continue this historic tradition.

Zozobra first appeared as a six-foot puppet, but the figure has since grown to be over 50 feet tall. It is one of the world’s largest functioning marionettes, able to wave his arms and move his mouth to growl ominously prior to meeting his demise.

The Kiwanis Club has faithfully continued the Zozobra tradition  Photo Credit

 

Today in Santa Fe more than 50,000 people go to watch Zozobra, who stands 50 feet tall  Photo Credit

Today in Santa Fe more than 50,000 people go to watch Zozobra, who stands 50 feet tall  Photo Credit

 

The 90th annual burning of Zozobra (Old Man Gloom) in Santa Fe  Photo Credit

The 90th annual burning of Zozobra (Old Man Gloom) in Santa Fe  Photo Credit

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Friday evening, at dusk, the popular Zozobra event takes place at Fort Marcy Park, located just a few blocks from the historic Santa Fe Plaza.