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Zozobra commemorates the decades

To mark the years leading up to the 100th anniversary of Zozobra in 2024, Old Man Gloom will be dressed to reflect a decade of his lifespan.

The 2014 edition of Old Man Gloom mirrored inventor Will Shuster’s 1920s Zozobra, complete with bare chest, full legs and protruding cigar.

The time-traveling visage was part of a new Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe “Decades Project” offering an historically themed Zozobra from a specific decade each year up until the beast’s 2024 100th anniversary torching.

Club members will choose one historic Zozobra per decade from their photographic archives spanning the 1920s through the 2010s, Raymond G. Sandoval, Zozobra Event Committee chair, said.

“We want to build excitement about the anniversary,” Sandoval said.

Club members will work with local schools and the Fiesta Council to create the historically correct atmosphere for each decade.

Music, dancing, advance promotion, even the tickets will reflect the style of each decade.

Zozobra builders will tie Old Man Gloom’s hands behind his back in the guise of an imprisoned monster.

“It’s Shuster’s original,” Sandoval continued. “He’s going to be executed.”

Club members researched Shuster’s diaries to discover he had originally envisioned a blindfolded figure, Sandoval said.

“They thought, ‘No, we’ve got to see his eyes,'” he added.

Zozobra donned a dress for the first time in the 1930s.

“He had legs and he wasn’t fastened to the wires correctly,” Sandoval said. A gust of wind picked up the figure, slamming it into a telephone pole, where his fabric legs blew apart into a dress.

“So that’s why Zozobra wears a dress,” Sandoval said. “Everybody went to Shuster and said, ‘Oh, it burned so much better.'”

In 1944, the war-themed celebration featured a combined Hitler/Hirohito Old Man Gloom.

“He has the comb-over of Hitler. He has the little mustache and he has Hirohito’s eyes,” Sandoval explained.

Shuster called the 1950s Zozobras the “Golden Age.” They slimmed down his considerable beer belly and added a carrot top of hair.

“Shuster thought, ‘He’s bald and he’s fat. Nobody’s going to be afraid of that,'” Sandoval added.

The Kiwanians are encouraging Santa Feans to dress for the decades. Vintage rock ‘n’ roll will blast the soundtrack of the 1960s version (slated for 2018), while Sandoval hopes locals will don Afro wigs and bell bottoms for the ’70s-themed soirée (2019).

Also for the first time, the Kiwanis Club will seek grants and local sponsorships to help fund the event.

“Our biggest costs are porta potties and security,” Sandoval said.

“These keep rising exponentially,” he continued. “We want to keep ticket prices low at $10. Our gift to Santa Fe is going to be a free Zozobra on the 100th anniversary —— 2024.”

The original celebration stemmed from Shuster and his artist friends’ reaction to Santa Fe’s Fiestas. The oldest community celebration in the U.S., the Santa Fe Fiestas commemorate the 1692 reconquest of the city by Spanish colonists and Gen. Don Diego De Vargas.

“They tried to get included with Fiesta, which at the time was very Hispanic and very Catholic, so they weren’t exactly welcomed,” Sandoval said.

Shuster and friends reacted by staging their own satirical version, complete with the burning of “Old Man Groucher,” a pet parade and an hysterical/historical parade where they dressed up as everyone from Spanish soldiers to George Washington.

“It was a way to make fun of history,” Sandoval said. “Will Shuster said, ‘We have to be able to laugh at ourselves.'”

This being Santa Fe, rather than being offended, Fiesta organizers incorporated Shuster’s ideas into the celebration we know today.

The Kiwanis Club took over the event in 1963, donating more than $500,000 back to the community.