The ritual has evolved into an enormous event—over sixty thousand people flock to New Mexico to kick off Santa Fe’s Fiesta Week, a historic celebration full of pageantry, artisan vendors, live music, and a pet parade. The nonprofit Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe took over the fiery event in 1964, and it has become their biggest fundraiser for their mission to make lasting differences in the lives of children. The Fire Spirit (Zozobra’s arch nemesis) is an integral counterpart of the ritual. A real person, dressed in red with a headdress and carrying a pair of blazing torches, dances around Zozobra who is angrily waving his arms and growling (“Zozo” fact: Zozobra is one of the world’s largest functioning marionettes), until finally the Fire Spirit ignites the fire that will consume Zozobra and the gloom within. “Gloom Deposit Boxes” are spread throughout the town in the weeks before the event, into which thousands of people drop their paper woes. Zozobra’s head is also laced with explosives, so he “capsizes” into embers amidst a blaze of fireworks.
Even kids get to participate in the annual “burn”—the Gloomies—but let’s let Ned Harris, Zozobra’s archivist, tell you more about that.
How long have you been the archivist for Zozobra?
Five years officially, but I have been a collector of Zozobra art and ephemera for more than thirty years.
What brought you to it?
Zozobra has a very important role in Santa Fe, designated in 2005 as the first UNESCO Creative City in the U.S. Among other things, it immediately establishes a sense of place for Santa Fe, New Mexico, which despite being well-known is actually a pretty small mountain city. I am drawn to things that highlight our unique identity as a city. We have our own cuisine, dialect, and rituals. I think this is marvelous. Zozobra is made by the people of Santa Fe, children make Zozobra themed art in the local schools, and there is a steady stream of folk and fine art made by adults. The event and the mythology both have an important cultural role here.
I know the puppet is made from cloth, wire, and paper, but how is it built to move? And how many people does it take to move it?
We think Zozobra weighs 3,000 pounds once stuffed and dressed. His head is carried by about sixteen people; his body and ghost tail require more than 70 people to lift and carry them to a waiting lowboy trailer. Many of the same people move him every year. There are lots of City employees, club members, and members of the public that come together before dawn to take Zozobra to his historic home at Fort Marcy Park.