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Where there’s smoke: Embattled Zozobra returns to his roots

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Posted: Friday, August 30, 2013 5:00 am | Updated: 7:09 am, Fri Aug 30, 2013.

Ray Sandoval’s worst fear is seeing Zozobra on the front page of The Santa Fe New Mexican — the day after his scheduled burning — with a headline reading “Old Man Gloom Wins.” Such an ill omen for the town’s spiritual health almost came to pass in 2008, which Sandoval (the man who lights Zozobra’s fuse) called “our rain year.” He told the full story from construction headquarters at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe. In the background, his crew unloaded flatbed trucks piled high with garbage bags full of shredded paper: Zozobra’s stuffing and fuel for the fire.

According to Sandoval’s memory of that fateful year, a heavy downpour lasted from early afternoon up through showtime, drenching the five-story marionette and turning Fort Marcy Park into a giant mud pit. The sludge-covered masses chanting angrily for Zozobra’s demise completed the primeval spectacle. Sandoval put his flare to the puppet’s single fuse and watched anxiously as the flame flickered upward to Zozobra’s head. After a few minutes, he realized that the fire was not hot enough to evaporate the water saturating Zozobra’s long white dress and ignite the rest of his body. So, against the advice of the firefighters on standby, he decided the only option was to climb inside the dress and torch him from the inside. “It was the most surreal experience. He was moving at that time, rocking back and forth, kind of like he was coming off the pole. And I’m literally inside him, just trying to find a dry spot where the flare will actually light.” Sandoval eventually succeeded, thus avoiding negative front-page coverage the following day.

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