Giant puppet takes on worries stuffed into ‘gloom box’


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — High anxiety about White House politics, hurricane flooding and even the threat of nuclear war with North Korea is adding an extra spark to the annual burning of a giant, ghostly marionette that serves as an effigy to gloom and doom.

The ritual burning of Zozobra was attracting tens of thousands of revelers Friday to a Santa Fe city park for a mixture of wholesome and ghoulish fun.

Inside the six-story puppet are reams of crumpled, handwritten notes about recent troubles and travails that people hope to leave behind. Worries this year included a combustible mix of disenchantment with politics and preoccupation over natural and manmade disasters.

In preparation for the burning, Holly Garcia, a 39-year-old homemaker stuffed several notes into a slotted “gloom box” at a shopping center.

The first was about a hospitalized sister and a brother recovering from brain surgery. Then came a note about the U.S. president, and a hand-scrawled prayer for friends and former neighbors besieged by floods in League City, Texas — a community sandwiched between Houston and the Gulf of Mexico.

“I put down, ‘Get rid of Donald Trump!’” said Garcia, while still counting her blessings. “I’m very blessed personally, my immediate family.”

Yinka Adeniji, a 40-year-old technology consultant, said he wanted to join others in washing away all internal feelings of bad will — and also perhaps get rid of an inept U.S. political system and start from scratch.

“I think it’s going to take a lot more than Zozobra,” he said. “We’re a country that doesn’t want to care for its people.”

The invention of Will Shuster — a painter from Philadelphia who migrated to the Southwest — Zozobra was first built and ignited in 1924, adding a madcap celebration to a Santa Fe’s weeklong community “fiestas” that include historic and religious processions. The festival’s name was derived from a Spanish word for anguish.

Modern pyrotechnics have transformed the nighttime burning, now preceded by hours of live music and performances on an adjacent stage. A team of a dozen puppeteers heaves on cords to flex the groaning marionette’s arms, head and jaw.

The spectacle appeals to people’s “better angels” in a year marked by disaster and political upheaval, said Ray Sandoval, who organizes Zozobra for the local Kiwanis Club to raise money for youth charities.

He spied credit card bills and a paid-off mortgage papers among the messages in the Zozobra stuffing this year — along with worries about nuclear war.

“We’re getting a lot of political messages to be quite honest,” Sandoval said. “People are really worried about the path of the country and their leadership. There are a lot of them that are more hopeful for the country.”

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