Imagine a hot, humid August afternoon in a simpler time, when weekends were still reserved for families. The old horse-drawn trolleys that once carried Pittsfield, Mass., residents from their homes to the pastoral grounds of Berkshire Park, three miles north of the city on Pontoosuc Lake, have given way to the private car, and a Sunday ride in search of recreation is now the common man's pleasure.
Jules and Art Gillette saw an opportunity and installed three rides in a grove of trees above the lake in the 1950s. One was a colorful carousel with carved horses made by the Herschel Spillman Co. of Tonanwanda, N.Y., which specialized in amusement rides and carousels.
Children, then as now, were enthralled by the spirited steeds that went round and round on the park's carousel, its merry music and whirling lights filling the early evening air.
No one knows the ultimate fate of the Berkshire Carousel in Pittsfield, but Gillette descendants believe it burned in a barn fire.
Now a project to bring the carousel back is nearing completion. On July 1, the long-awaited attraction is expected to return and take its first spin within the Berkshire Mall, a shopping mall located atop a hill in Lanesborough, Mass., overlooking Lake Pontoosuc.
The 21st-century carousel project was the inspiration of Pittsfield native Jim Shulman, a retired psychologist, and his wife, Jackie, who now live in Galena, Ohio.
"Jim and Jackie Shulman wanted to give a gift to the community,' said Maria Caccaviello, the director of the project. "They wanted to include the community in an opportunity to create art and to recreate a legacy.'
The Shulmans agreed to provide financial backing and lend direction for the project. Other financing for the estimated $1 million cost of the carousel came from donations and sponsorships of the horses.
There are nearly 400 carousels across the U.S., with most built before 1960 and therefore considered "classic,' according to a census by the National Carousel Association, which works to restore and preserve American carousels.
Communities in Ohio, Washington and Wyoming also have plans to open carousels this year.
Caccaviello estimated that 400 people have worked on the Pittsfield project, but more volunteers are being sought, even as production of the carousel figures draws to an end.
Each horse for the carousel has a name, and Shulman chose to name his Obie after O. B. Joyful, a town character who lived in Pittsfield from the 1920s through 1961 when he passed away at age 89. O. B. Joyful's portrait appears on the trappings on the rear of the saddle.
"All the horses are sponsored,' said Caccaviello. "Each horse has a personal story -- the sponsor gets to create a personal experience and to choose the color palette. Many of the horses depict family pets -- for ' Joy' a golden retriever came in and posed, and we have a couple of kittens. ' Brewster' is based on a horse from Undermountain Farm who has helped teach children to ride for more than three decades. Brewster has a heart on his shoulder. Kids come in and they say, ' There's Brewster!''
A generous heart is echoed in another story associated with the carousel. The horses are expensive to create -- the largest figures cost $15,000 each and the smallest $9,000. The youngest sponsors for a figure are the students at the Craneville School in Dalton, Mass.
"We had one horse sponsored by elementary school children. They came in with 9,000 pennies. A very special family from Dalton [the Horths] contributed the difference. It was wonderful, but the bank didn't appreciate the pennies when I took them in,' Caccaviello said, laughing.
Like all the sponsors, the children were given input into what "their' horse looks like.
"Pinky,' a glossy white horse with golden mane and tail and pink trappings, is dedicated to cancer awareness. She had two sponsors, the second of whom, Doug Cowan of Richmond, Mass., dedicated her to the memory of his wife, Cassie, who died of cancer in 2008.
When it came time for finishing touches on Pinky, Cowan decided to add flowers, which Cassie had always loved, and carved them into the saddle's cantle and on the bridle.
Amid all the spirited chargers and high-stepping trotters is one humble creature -- Missie, the donkey. The figure is based on the stubborn little creature that accompanied sponsor Kevin O'Hara on his 1,800-mile trek around Ireland and that is the basis for his book, "The Last of the Donkey Pilgrims.' Missie proved demanding when it came to the design of her figure.
Caccaviello explained that each horse can weigh no more than 100 pounds and are created with hollow centers to keep the weight down. A donkey, however, has a proportionally larger head and ears than a horse and was a challenge for designers trying to keep her light.
All of the horses conform to the clockwise spin traditional in American carousels. Only the right -- or "romance' -- side of the horses, the side visible to observers, is heavily carved. As with most quality antique carousel horses, the Berkshire Carousel animals have life-like glass eyes.
In addition to the horses and donkey, two "chariots' are being made, one of which will be handicapped accessible, and there will be a spinning teacup.
Once the carousel is assembled and running, Caccaviello said, more hands will be needed to operate the ride, and to run the gift shop filled with the works of artisans that will help generate funds for its maintenance. "If the carousel is located here at the mall, it will operate 364 days a year,' said the director, "and we will need volunteers to make that happen.'
For more information, see the Web site for the carousel project, www.berkshirecarousel.com, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 413-499-0342. This story originally appeared in Passport Magazine.
To read more about the area, also check out the Litchfield County Times. Follow @thelct on Twitter.