The New Mexican / September 8, 2000, by Veronica Gonzalez
For Ulana George of Los Alamos, Thursday night’s Zozobra was the Fourth of July she didn’t have this year because of the Cerro Grande fire.
“I sort of felt like, ‘Wow, there is life ahead and I will conquer it,’ ” George said.
Exploding fireworks in hues of green, red and purple competed with the orange flames rising from the 42-foot-tall Man of Gloom that has been a Santa Fe tradition since the 1930s.
At 8:35 p.m., darkness fell over the Fort Marcy Complex ballpark.
Bright green flames shot up from the stage before the Old Man Gloom was set ablaze. A line of hooded people marched with torches. Dancers filled the stage, waving their arms in blurs of white and red.
The fire dancer, Chip Lilienthal, danced up and down the stairs several times before lighting the Zozobra.
With mouth agape, the Zozobra moaned and grunted at the crowd as if he knew his fate. He had been flailing his arms and turning his head from side to side in tune to the music of the bands entertaining the crowd before he was lit on fire.
A man in the crowd of about 40,000 kissed his girlfriend and resumed his imitation of the Zozobra’s grunts.
At 8:50 p.m., the figure’s head was the first part to begin burning as the sounds of drums and harp surged through the air, beating louder and more sinister.
Burning fireworks embers and droplets of rain confettied the audience, and faint chants of “Burn him! Burn him!” exploded from the crowd only to die down again after a few minutes.
Heat emanated from the towering inferno.
Ten minutes later, at about 8:55 p.m., orange flames engulfed the entire body, exposing Zozobra’s wire skeleton. A year 2000 sign lit up, reminding people of the new millennium.
John Sullivan, a 29-year-old from Boston, had never seen the celebration but was in Santa Fe for a job interview.
“That was awesome,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t expect all the fireworks. I was pretty lucky. I didn’t know this was going on.”
Anthony Lucero, 76, from El Paso, Texas, was born and raised in Santa Fe, and said he visits for the celebration every year. He has seen Zozobra burn 11 times.
“It always seems to be a good time,” Lucero said, adding he believes Zozobra chases the gloom away.
After the celebration was over, people flooded Washington Avenue, at one point passing a row of Potter’s House Christian Fellowship members, who were out in force distributing flyers and exhorting revelers to “give your life to Jesus.” People either walked by or cursed at them.
Many in the crowd ignored the members, continuing unabated their whopping and chants of “Viva La Fiesta.”
“What I see is people giving them a hard time,” said Santa Fe police officer Charles Ritter. “They’ve been very well behaved tonight.”
Last year, Potter’s House members had a run-in with police. According to authorities, they assaulted Police Chief John Denko and police ended up using pepper spray to subdue the crowd.
As the clock approached 10 p.m., mounted police cleared the Plaza where many had gathered afterwards. One young man, inquiring whether he could go a certain way, didn’t seem pleased that his movement was being curtailed.
“Last time I checked, it was America, you know?” he said.
Across the Plaza, Deputy Police Chief Beverly Lennen was pleased that the evening passed without major problems but seemed ready for it to end.
This year’s Zozobra was more calm than in years past. The event was moved to Thursdays after Carlos Santiago Romero was killed in 1997.
All in all, the crowd cooperated, she said. The only injuries she was aware of were a sprained ankle and someone who stepped on a nail. But she wasn’t ready yet to write off Fiestas 2000 as entirely incident-free.
“It’ll be three more days before we’ll comfortably say that,” she said.
Lennen said 160 police, sheriffs, state police and Department of Public Safety Special Investigations personnel were on duty to help keep the peace.
Zozobra took five days to build this year and cost $600. It was made of linen, wood and wire and was stuffed with shredded paper, said Charlie Goodman, vice president of the Kiwanis Club, which holds the event every year.