The notorious Mr. Z, aka Zozobra, aka Old Man Gloom, has come a long way since being burned in progenitor Will Shuster’s backyard as an anti-Fiestas symbol, later an integral part of them and this year, with a triumphant return to Fridays, the ultimate kickoff for the longest-running civic celebration in the country.
New to the city? Get chummy with the gloomy one; a 50-foot-tall marionette set ablaze to signify the demise of your personal gloom and the beginning of a new cycle.
“My first memory of Zozobra is that my father used to pick me up from school, I was about 6 years old, at noon, and we would drive up Artist Road so we could see the top of Zozobra’s head to figure out what the hair color was,” event committee chair Ray Sandoval reminisces. “That time—I’ll never forget—it was fluorescent yellow hair sticking out against that blue sky.”
Kicking off the Kiwanis Club’s “Decades Project,” Zozobra this year will be a throwback to Shuster’s original 1920s design.
“Zozobra is going to look very different than he has before,” Sandoval tells SFR. “Normally, the folklore has been that we invite Zozobra to a party to trick him out of hiding, so he shows up in a bowtie and cummerbund—that’s not the case with this 1920s Zozobra. He was actually arrested, he’s bound in handcuffs, he’s going to fight to the bitter end and he’s going to look very different.”
Along with the cuffs, this year the big guy sports a mustache, will be bare-chested and rocking a loincloth—a decision that raised a couple of eyebrows and even originated an online petition to return the muslin and chicken wire giant to his “basic fundamentals.”
According to Sandoval, it doesn’t get more fundamental that that original design.
“I think the people who have thought that Zozobra is the same thing every year, this is definitely the Zozobra that you do not want to miss,” the organizer advances.
Along with the retro look, Sandoval promises, “the biggest fireworks show the state of New Mexico has ever seen.”
Sandoval hopes that with the Friday move plus a slew of shuttles available the day of, locals who might have put off attending the burning in years past come back to the fold.
“This is a Zozobra that you haven’t seen before, your father hasn’t seen before, maybe your grandfather,” he says. “This is definitely one not to miss.”
No word yet if Hirohitlmus—1943’s Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini mashup—will make its comeback in 2016.
90th Burning of Zozobra
3 pm, Friday, Aug. 29.
$10; children under 10,
Free Fort Marcy Park