Sorry, Zozobra: Old Man Gloom is Going Down -
Zozobra Poster Santa Fe New Mexico

Once upon a September early, while I wandered, feeling wearlily,
Looking for a way to eradicate twelve moons of slumgullion gloom—
Though I steeped in restless stressing, there came the moaning
Of an old friend’s blessing, reminding that though they loom,
Last year’s worries, are dust beneath Zozobra’s broom.
“Burn Him,” I uttered, “burn my mind’s torturous loom—
sweep it upward in his flume.”

Though Edgar Allen Poe did not live to see William Shuster’s Zozobra tradition take form in 1924, perhaps the adaptation above of “The Raven’s” first verse would have crossed his mind. The toothless, empty-headed spectre is made, staged, and flamed by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe since 1964 as part of Santa Fe’s 303 year-old Fiesta season’s tradition. Previously the pageantry took place as part of the Fiesta weekend, but last year marked Zozobra’s break out attempt-brooding quietly, then fiercely, and finally fiery on the Friday night of Labor Day weekend in an attempt to garner a larger attendance and develop a more positive impact on Santa Fe’s downtown businesses.

Inspired by Mexico’s Yaqui Indian’s effigy of Judas, Zozobra gains his namesake from Will Schuster’s and E. Dana Johnson’s collaboration to bring physicality to anguish, angst, or dread.  Zozobra, literally means “anxiety, or gloom” in Spanish – an apt name for the literal embodiment of our collective worries.

Shuster’s creation first appeared as a six-foot puppet and has since grown to about 50 feet. Made of muslin and stuffed with shredded paper, Zozobra is an eerie, groaning, flailing character who appears to be part ghost and part monster. Amid fireworks and the ceremonial dances of ghosts and fire, a growling Zozobra is set ablaze and, it is said, as the fire consumes the beast, so go the feelings of gloom and doom from the past year, the flames renewing the hope and optimism of the gathered celebrants. The ever-howling Zozobra can be heard echoing throughout Santa Fe.


The effigy used in Zozobra is a giant wooden and cloth marionette that waves its arms and growls ominously prior to its demise. A major highlight of the Zozobra pageant is the Fire Spirit Dancer, dressed in a flowing red costume, who appears at the top of the stage to drive away the white-sheeted “Gloomies” from the base of Old Man Gloom.


As the major annual fundraiser, Zozobra has become a fun way for the citizens of Santa Fe (and visitors from around the globe) to participate in community service. The festival is one of the most anticipated events of the season, unique to Santa Fe, with visitors coming from every corner of the globe to experience the celebration. School children, on planned field trips, arrive in the park in the morning to watch the assembly of Zozobra.

This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead

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