I was doing some off-the-wall research on the history of Zozobra and Santa Fe Fiesta when I came across a front-page news story by Old Gloomy himself.
In fairness to the newspaper’s current publisher and editor, I note right off the bat that the Zozobra byline appeared in the Aug. 20, 1943, edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican. But maybe no one would mind if the paper’s 1943 staff was only trying to lighten the page amid the weight of World War II news. In fact, the peg for Zozobra’s appears to be wartime rationing and short supplies, in this case whiskey.
Old Man Gloomo, as he is otherwise identified in the story, or maybe it’s a typo, reportedly interviewed a bunch of Santa Fe barkeeps who said that if they had any Fiesta-time hooch at all, they would rather save it for their local customers rather than having it swilled all at once by a bunch of out-of-town gawkers. Texans are not mentioned but they have long been among Santa Fe’s usual suspects.
Distillers were busy making alcohol for the war effort. This is when Caribbean rum gained favor. Whiskey was especially scarce two years into the war but everything apparently was in short supply. Zozobra summed up his Santa Fe survey with this: “The argument most frequently heard is: “Why should I sell out my stock — if I had any stock — to complete strangers in one day or evening when ‘the same stock might keep the regular accounts contended for three-or-four weeks.”’
Yes, the story said “contended.” I’m not sure if it was a vocabulary problem, another typo or old Zozo had done too much first-hand reporting before deadline.
It seems clear, however, that the barkeeps of 1943 were just as leery of problems caused by huge Fiesta crowds as city leaders were in the mid-1970s when they started talking about breaking things up, separating the crowd-stirring burning of Zozobra from more reverent Fiesta events.
To his credit, Zozobra undertook his public service reporting on the Santa Fe bar and liquor crisis just days before he was thanklessly torched in 1943 at Fort Marcy Park. And his mentor, Will Shuster, was still looking for ways around the whiskey problem if not the immolation of his iconic offspring.
According to Zozobra’s reporting in the New Mexican, Shuster suggested the importation of a bunch of rattlesnakes from Texas so that thirsty Santa Feans could be offered rattlesnake bites at 50 cents a pop. The snakebitten customer would then be rushed to St. Vincent where the sisters hopefully would be charitable and administer the “legendary treatment” of a belt of whiskey. Liquor problem solved. The hell with Zozobra.
Here’s the 1943 Zozobra story, straight up.