Every fall, people make their way to Fort Marcy Park in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to burn Zozobra, aka “Old Man Gloom.” Zozobra is a dark and eerie character, part ghost and part monster. I first saw him burn in the mid-1970s, and it is just as super cool to me now as it was back then.
The burning of Zozobra is a Santa Fe tradition that dates back to the 1920s. It all started with the artist and WWI vet, Will Shuster, a Philidelphia native who came to New Mexico after the war and spent the rest of his life here. He was part of a group of artists that came to be known as “Los Cinco Pintores.” Shuster built and burned Zozobra in effigy, symbolizing the gloom of the passing year. In the 1960s, an international service club, the Kiwanis, took over the festivities which benefit Santa Fe’s underprivileged children.
Zozobra is made of wood, wire, and cotton cloth and stuffed with hundreds of bags of shredded paper. Some of the papers stuffing his insides are from the crowd; these are called “Glooms.” Folks write down their sadnesses from the year before and burn them away with Zozobra.
During the pandemic, Zozobra still burned and was broadcast live around the world. A modern update allowed viewers to virtually send their glooms to be printed and added to the stuffing for a small fee. Also, you could send in objects to be burned inside Zozobra’s body for a larger price. I have it on good authority there was at least one wedding dress in there. If you visit Santa Fe in the fall I hope you get a chance to see Old Man Gloom burn.