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Get over Old Man Gloom’s bad rap and spread the fun, event organizer urges businesses

Thousands of people attended the 90th burning of Zozobra at Fort Marcy Park in Santa Fe on August 29, 2014. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Thousands of people attended the 90th burning of Zozobra at Fort Marcy Park in Santa Fe on August 29, 2014. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Ray Sandoval wants out-of-town visitors to have fun after Zozobra, and he put a big effort into making that happen this year.

Sandoval, the third-year Zozobra event chairman for the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, said many visitors the club polled after last year’s burning said they enjoyed the event but were disappointed about not being able to grab a meal or a drink in the downtown area afterward. Many of those visitors said they wouldn’t return as a result.

Sandoval blamed misconceptions about the event for making downtown businesses wary of staying open late to accommodate patrons, especially since the event moved to Friday last year. The event had been held on Fridays for years, until a man was shot and killed after the burning in 1998, prompting officials to move the event to the Thursday before the Santa Fe Fiesta. Fear of a similar incident may keep businesses from opening their doors.

“The one thing that we found was that a lot of our proprietors as well as hotel managers are transplants,” Sandoval said. “They come here because they work for a large hotel chain and they hear certain things about an event, and that becomes their reality and they make decisions based on some of those rumors. We found out the event had basically been really bad-mouthed when they first got to Santa Fe.”

On Thursday, Jacob Romero, president-elect of Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, paints over spots on the pole that will support Zozobra while the giant puppet burns on the heights overlooking the baseball field at Fort Marcy. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

On Thursday, Jacob Romero, president-elect of Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, paints over spots on the pole that will support Zozobra while the giant puppet burns on the heights overlooking the baseball field at Fort Marcy. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

But regardless of those fears, last year’s Friday burning went off without a hitch.

“It was a very nice event,” said Lt. Andrea Dobyns, spokeswoman for the Santa Fe Police Department. “We didn’t have any major disturbances. We’re hoping to have a repeat this year.”

There were no reported incidents, but Nick Bradford, manager of Draft Station and Rooftop Pizzeria, which are just off the Plaza and were both open after Zozobra last year, said he had to shut down the bar around 10 p.m. because of an influx of unruly customers after the event let out.

“We had way too many people intoxicated and trying to come in and we just had to shut it down that night, unfortunately,” Bradford said. “People were trying to walk in with their own beers, and we had a couple guys walk in with guns. There’s potential for money there if everyone knows that we’re open and can get to it, but people just get too over-intoxicated.”

Despite the chaos, Bradford said both Draft Station and Rooftop Pizzeria will be open until at least 11 p.m. tonight.

“This year, we’re going to give it another try,” he said. “If we get to that point again, unfortunately, we’ll have to close it down.”

In fact, more businesses are going to stay open this year, according to Sandoval. He said that after many conversations with downtown merchants, places like Skylight, El Meson, Santacafe, C.G. Higgins Confections, as well as hotel bars, will remain open late this year, and he said restaurants will allow late reservations to accommodate patrons after the burning.

Zozobra is also on the Friday before Labor Day for the second straight year as opposed to the Thursday before the Santa Fe Fiesta, because many visitors told the Kiwanis Club that it would be “impossible” to travel after the three-day weekend.

“What (downtown businesses) saw was that we orchestrated a 43,000-person event in a way in which there were zero arrests and no major incidents,” Sandoval said. “A lot of that is luck, but part of that is planning. I think they’re understanding now that Zozobra can he a huge economic lift.”

Patrons who were won over by Sandoval’s tenacity in getting more downtown businesses to stay open this year and making a return will most likely see a Zozobra they have never seen before.

This Zozobra from the 1930s helped inspire the style for the Old Man Gloom going up in flames tonight.

This Zozobra from the 1930s helped inspire the style for the Old Man Gloom going up in flames tonight.

As part of the Decades Project, this year’s Old Man Gloom will be a 50-foot-2-inch bald, fat monster that harkens back to Zozobras of the 1930s.

Every year will feature a different Zozobra from each decade until the 100th anniversary in 2024. Sandoval theorizes that Zozobra was fat in the 1930s because he was feeding off the gloom of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl.

“All that made him a little panzón,” Sandoval said.

And despite his fear of people not returning, Sandoval said ticket pre-sales are triple what they were last year. He refused to share that number with the Journal, but the Santa Fe Reporter reported Wednesday that 27,000 tickets have been pre-sold.

On Tuesday, Sandoval showed the Journal a map on his phone that displayed where hundreds of tickets were sold around the country.

Zozobra was recently featured in a Huffington Post article comparing it to Burning Man, a weeklong festival in the Nevada desert at which a giant effigy is burned, and a CNN.com article highlighting the 20 best places to visit this fall.

Matt Gonzales, along with sons Markus, 9, left, and Lukas, 5, get an early look last weekend at Zozobra’s head, which was on display at the Zozofest at Sanbusco Market Center. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Matt Gonzales, along with sons Markus, 9, left, and Lukas, 5, get an early look last weekend at Zozobra’s head, which was on display at the Zozofest at Sanbusco Market Center. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“I think the event is becoming nationally recognized,” Sandoval said. “This is the original Burning Man, and I think it’s also an opportunity for families to come together.”

After a record 43,000 people attended last year, the event is just as strong as ever, even 91 years after creator Will Shuster burned the first marionette in his backyard during a party.

Sandoval said there is an innate urge to see something burn and start anew, and that’s what keeps people from around the country filing into Fort Marcy Park in droves every year.

“We all need a new year,” Sandoval said. “We all need to be able to leave something in the past. Zozobra actually allowed people to do that. You are burning your own personal gloom, but you’re doing it with an entire community. Not only are you having this primal, very personal experience, but you’re also doing it with tens of thousands of other people, and I think that’s the genius of this event.”

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