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 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.
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.
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.
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.