Join Thousands As We Burn Zozobra and Our Gloom

The Burning of Zozobra is a unique cultural event staged annually by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe on the Friday before Labor Day. This must-see event takes place on August 30, 2019— at the beginning of the historic Fiesta de Santa Fe . For those who have never heard of Zozobra and those who wonder why we burn this tall effigy made of muslin and stuffed with bags of shredded paper, we offer you a glimpse to the man, the myth….Zozobra.

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Who Created Zozobra?

The Head of Zozobra with Will Schuster
Will Schuster (left) seen here with his artist friends and the head of Zozobra. (Photo courtesy of The Burning of Will Schuster’s Zozobra)

William Howard Shuster, better known as “Shus”, came to Santa Fe as did so many, for reasons of health, and also like many, stayed on for the lifestyle and the culture, significantly enriching both along the way. Inspired by the Mexican tradition of burning Judas in effigy, Shus built and burned the first Zozobra (a relative miniature compared to today’s monster), at a 1924 party in his backyard.

Who Is Zozobra?

Zozobra is one of the worlds’ tallest and largest marionettes
Zozobra is one of the worlds’ tallest and largest marionettes. (Photo courtesy of The Burning of Will Shuster’s Zozobra)

Zozobra is the enemy of all that is good, and Santa Fe knows only too well the ominous spell of darkness and despair that Zozobra casts annually over The City Different.

This doomful specter is a monster created and reborn annually because of wicked and woeful deeds throughout the year. In order to lure Zozobra out of hiding, the city leaders invite him to Santa Fe’s largest celebration, the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe (celebrating its 307th in 2019). With his enormous ego urging him on, Zozobra accepts this invite, recognizing an opportunity to invade the heart of town and  destroy all hope and happiness.

He’s a fifty-foot tall paper marionette, also known as Old Man Gloom (OMG). He is made of muslin and stuffed with shredded paper and the citizens of Santa Fe’s worries and problems. He was conceived to be part of Fiesta by Santa Fe’s band of boisterous artists in the roaring 1920s. The event is now in its 95th year!

Zozobra is a show-stopping sight to see as he moans, flails and then goes up in flames. The chants of thousands of spectators fill Fort Marcy Park—just a few blocks from the historic Santa Fe Plaza. Fireworks light up the finale and as the gloom and doom of the crowd goes up in smoke.

Zozobra and His Nemesis 

Fire Dancer Helene Luna , takes one last look at the remains of Old Man Gloom. (Photo courtesy of TOURISM Santa Fe)

A gigantic wooden and cloth effigy, Zozobra is one of the world’s largest functioning marionettes, able to wave his arms and move his mouth to growl inauspiciously prior to meeting his demise. His arch-enemy, the Fire Spirit Dancer, dressed in a flowing red costume and headdress, is armed with a pair of blazing torches with which to end Zozobra’s reign of fear. The role of the Fire Spirit was originated by Jacques Cartier, former New York ballet dancer and local dance teacher, who performed for an amazing 37 years. Cartier was succeeded by one of his students, James Lilienthal, who took over the Fire Spirit role in 1970, performing it for over 30 years and passing the role on to his daughter.

The Decades Project

The Decades Project brought the spirit of the 1940s in 2016. Zozobra tries out his best Rick Blaine! (Photo courtesy of TOURISM Santa Fe)

In 2014, the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe started an ambitious decades-long program that will culminate with the 100th anniversary of the Burning of Zozobra in 2024.

The Decades Project, a 10-year journey through each of the successive decades of Zozobra’s history since his creation in 1924.

During each successive year, the Kiwanis Club will recreate Zozobra by designing the entire event to evoke the style and substance of each individual decade, with that decade’s music, art and pop culture interjected into all the fun. This year it’s the 70s and we’re sure the crowd is gonna be feeling groovy for the Burning of Zozobra!

Event Information

Once the Fire Dancer appears, you know its curtains for Zozobra! (Photo courtesy of The Burning of Will Shuster’s Zozobra)

Zozobra entertainment at Fort Marcy Park begins at 3:00 pm and the official ceremonies begin at 7:00 pm with lights out at 9:30 pm. Rest assured that this is a rain-or-shine event and he WILL burn. Plan ahead and view a map of the park by clicking here.

General admission tickets are $10 per person and children 10 and under are free. Tickets can be ordered online. Be sure to check out all of the premium seating options available this year—available on a first come, first served basis.

Start planning your Zozobra getaway and order the Santa Fe Travel Guide! If you plan on attending the festivities and staying in Santa Fe overnight, be aware that the Labor Day weekend schedule means you should book your accommodations well in advance!

Why not discover what Santa Fe has to offer by checking our Deals and Specials page as well! Start exercising your vocal chords as you will be chanting “Burn him” with thousands of others!  Imagine that! We can.

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