SANTA FE, N.M. — Paying homage to the universal symbol of the 1960s, Zozobra tries to make a peace sign with his left hand.
But Old Man Gloom’s index and middle finger are curled over, struggling to straighten out into a V. His evil and gloomy ways overpower him, said Zozobra event chairman Ray Sandoval.
“It’s a really good attempt, but he just couldn’t do it,” Sandoval said last week while showing off this year’s 50-foot marionette.
Zozobra will burn tonight in front of an expected record crowd of 65,000 people at Fort Marcy Park. For 94 years, his demise has symbolized a chance for the people of Santa Fe to rid themselves of their own gloom.
The failed peace sign is just one of the ways Zozobra has been designed to represent the ’60s, part of the event’s Decades Project – honoring one decade each year leading up to Zozo’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2024. The puppet this year has turned in his 1950s-style button-up cardigan from last year for a turquoise bolo tie and leather belt with a metal buckle.
“Bolo ties were introduced in the 1940s, but they didn’t pick up their popularity, especially with older men, until the 1960s,” Sandoval said, adding this is the first time Zozobra has donned a bolo tie.
The bolo is made of clear lacquer and paint rather than the actual stone. However, using his connections with a frame-making shop in town, Sandoval has mixed a small amount of paper-thin, 24-karat gold leaf into the giant accessory to add some “bling.”
Zozobra isn’t sporting ’60s fashion staples like tie-dye for the same reason he wasn’t put in a “Grease”-style leather jacket like some locals wanted last year, Sandoval said. Zozobra, Old Man Gloom, wouldn’t be wearing the same thing as the young, hip people of the era.
“He’s still an old, grouchy man,” he said. “So we have to play with that.”
It’s the torchbearers who will be decked out in hippie-style decor, wearing fringe vests, peace medallions, tie-dye headbands and round, John Lennon-style sunglasses. The Gloomies – the minions played by local kids – will wear red sequin bow ties.
Rounding out the decade celebration and kicking off the post-burning fireworks show – after a few plays of the Santa Fe Fiesta Song – will be the extended version of The Beatles’ 1968 classic “Hey Jude.”
“We thought that was the feel-good, mob song of the ’60s,” Sandoval explained. Once the lights turn back on, tunes from the 1970s disco era, looking forward to next year’s burning, will begin.
Getting the ‘ingredients to the cake’
Last year’s Zozobra event attracted about 60,200 people, according to Sandoval, who is expecting thousands more tonight if there is good weather. As of Wednesday, just under 32,500 tickets had been sold to buyers nationwide and to people in other countries, including Poland, Ireland and the U.K.
About $67,000 from last year’s burning went back to the Kiwanis Club, the service group that organizes the event and distributes the money to projects benefitting local youth. The funded projects included adaptive ski programming for kids with special needs, distribution of gun locks by New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, and a new playground for the Boys and Girls Club.
Sandoval deemed 2017 a logistical success, adding that the organizers received positive feedback about the expansion to 20 entrance/security gates – this year, there will be 25 – and a new, much wider bridge across an arroyo, connecting Magers Field and the ballpark burning site.
By 8 p.m. last year, he said Zozo-goers were getting their tickets checked and passed through security at a rate of 2,000 people per minute. “We kinda feel like last year we nailed it,” Sandoval said. “We got the ingredients to the cake.”
But organizers are still seeking to improve how visitors leave the event, citing a post-event bottleneck on the bridge despite its increased width.
“Unfortunately, 100 percent of the people came in through that bridge and 90 percent went out through that bridge, because it’s just human nature to go out the way you came in,” Sandoval said.
To avoid congestion tonight, he said a combination of security guards, ROTC program members and police will direct the crowds to all eight points of exit. There are other exits east and west of the ballpark, including out to Old Taos Highway via the tennis courts and an alleyway behind the ballpark scoreboard that leads to Bishops Lodge Road.
The Kiwanis Club has also spent an extra $10,000 to better accommodate the growing number of seniors and guests with disabilities. Describing the plans as an “experiment,” Sandoval said that in addition to a free ADA shuttle from state government’s South Capitol parking lot at St. Francis and Cordova, four carts that hold up to eight people can drive seniors and guests with disabilities onto the field. And near the scoreboard there will be a new viewing platform that can hold 40-50 visitors in wheelchairs and one companion.
“They’re raised higher so they can see over everybody’s head,” Sandoval explained. “This is something that’s been haunting me for years, to do something about this, and we just thought, ‘You know what? We need to spend the money.’ Our first commandment by (Zozobra creator Will) Schuster who gave this to us is that everyone should be included.”
Smaller changes this year, made in response to 2017 post-event feedback, include visitors being allowed to bring in outside food and empty water containers – but not bottled liquids – and backpacks, subject to search. Sandoval said the searches may add to entrance waits, but noted that the five entrance gates on the southern end of the Scottish Rite Center parking lot are designated for backpack carriers. Outside food cannot be brought in using coolers.
“We’re trying to have a balance of making sure everybody is safe and we don’t have prohibited items that are brought in, but at the same time that this is a fun community event and they can bring the stuff they need,” he said.
Access to the event is via Bishops Lodge Road. Entertainment begins at 4:30 p.m. The music headliner is Santa Fe native and Latin singer Tobias Rene, preceded by Al Hurricane Jr. performing a tribute to his father. All Santa Fe Trails bus routes are free after 5 p.m. Shuttles from the South Capitol parking lot also start at 5 p.m. For Railrunner passengers, the last train south out of Santa Fe from South Capitol will be held for Zozobra-goers.
Strollers are allowed in Magers Field, but not the ballpark. Families can check strollers if they wish to stand in the main viewing area. Weapons, alcohol, open or glass containers, large umbrellas, metal or lawn chairs or tables are all prohibited. A full list of prohibited items is at burnzozobra.com.