Zozobra: The Original Burning Man

The Burning of Zozobra, aka Old Man Gloom, is yet another dazzling event that is unique to Santa Fe.

The Burning of Zozobra, aka Old Man Gloom, is yet another dazzling event that is unique to Santa Fe. This artistic and cultural curiosity, built and presided over by Santa Fe’s Kiwanis Club, is set ablaze each Friday before Labor Day at Ft. Marcy park near the heart of the city’s downtown. The 93rd burn is on September 1, 2017.There are now more than 50,000 attendees, from 50 states and over a dozen countries, many of whom have come to see their personal gloomy sorrows and woes — written down on slips of paper or presented in the form of a tax document, divorce papers, and even the occasional wedding dress — go up in the flames.

Those who haven’t supplied tangible griefs shout out their worries while others yell more simply, “burn him!”"The Burn" is truly a spectacle and surprise for those who don't know what they'll be experiencing, but it's a long-time staple for those who have come prepared to unburden themselves and participate in an annual en masse de-glooming.

Zozobra started as a collaboration between two Santa Fe artists of renown: Gustave Baumann and William Howard Shuster, Jr. Together they built the first Zozobra, which resembles the Zozobra still burnt to this day although he has grown much taller and more articulated in his movements over the decades. The first burn occurred in 1924, yet is relatively new to the city’s historical timeline.

For example, Zozobra's Labor Day weekend occasion is considered the beginning of the Santa Fe Fiesta week, the nation's oldest continually held public celebration at 304 years old.Zozobra has taken a strange hold over the collective imagination of Santa Feans. For the budding artists in the city’s public and private schools, the image is drawn almost as frequently as crayon line drawings of houses, trees, kitties and suns.

For many adults, the event is as anticipated as Christmas or Halloween. Some deem the cathartic burn as the beginning of a new year, a brand new start that is free from the worries and concerns of the past year.The massive marionette usually stands at about 50 ft. and once this towering effigy is set to flame, you behold a sight which is both impressive and haunting. Among Zozobra's more surreal aspects is the soundtrack played atop his enkindling: a tortured moaning as the flames tear through his body and turn it, and the sorrows it contains, into an evanescence of grief.

Regardless of some of these more intense characteristics, the event is family friendly with food trucks and other amenities. A grand fireworks display concludes the proceedings.The Burning of Zozobra takes place this year on Friday, September 1. Kiwanis Club's ongoing Decades Project celebrates each ten year period of the burn with a uniquely-themed Zozobra that will culminate in the 2024 century celebration. This year will honor the 1950's, sure to be a rocking & rolling good time — but we'll just have to wait and see what look The Old Man dons for the occasion!