PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire Carousel has become a global phenomenon.
Amusement ride enthusiasts from as far away as London, South America and Australia are among the thousands of riders who've mounted the hand-crafted wooden horses since the built-from-scratch merry-go-round opened July 4 weekend.
In two-plus months of operation, the carousel has had 27,000 riderships — nearly 400 per day — with many of them repeat customers, according to project director Maria Caccaviello.
"Some [tourists] are riding every single horse before they go home," she said. "Of course all the little girls want to ride 'pinky.'"
In appreciation for the tremendous support, carousel organizers and volunteers held half-price day for Berkshire residents on Sunday, which almost felt like opening day.
"We had a sudden rush of 120 people when we opened the gates [Sunday] morning, then a lull, then another rush; this is what we expected all summer," Caccaviello noted.
Berkshire Carousel's debut was a box office smash with 5,000 tickets sold July 1 through July 4, with subsequent weekends through Labor Day the busiest times, according to Caccaviello.
Dozens of volunteers have manned the merry-go-round, doled out food and drinks at the concession stand and sold $15,000 worth from of carousel-related t-shirts, mugs, books and other souvenirs. Lacking air conditioning, The Little Green Gift Shop at times doubled as a sauna.
"The volunteers were really dedicated — it was really hot in there," Caccaviello said.
With the school year under way and summer vacations over, Berkshire Carousel will begin rolling back its days and hours of operation.
Starting Sept. 12, the amusement ride will be closed on Mondays and only operational from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and after Columbus Day weekend, open Thursday through Sunday.
Caccaviello says expect holiday-themed events the rest of 2016 with the nearby workshop offering painting and carving classes and other activities continuing year-round.
Berkshire Carousel took more than a decade to plan, create and install at the corner of Center and South Church streets.
Pittsfield native Jim Shulman and wife, Jackie, conceived of the project in 2004, with work on the first horse two years later. Hundreds of volunteers spent thousands of hours carving, sanding and painting the horses, donkey, chariots, 14 running boards, all mounted to the decoratively painted 85-year-old frame and mechanism that was refurbished in Ohio two years ago.
Aside from the monetary donations so far toward the final estimated cost of $2.3 million to $2.6 million, dozens of businesses and individuals contributed services and materials at cost or free of charge.
With the enclosed, year round carousel completed, fundraising continues for the project's second and third phases, primarily the amenities.
Phase 2 is a full concession with an old-fashioned soda fountain and an education department for all ages; Phase 3 is exhibit hall, which will house thousands of pieces of Pittsfield memorabilia along with the first motorized fire truck.
Caccaviello says a complete build out of the carousel complex is at least two years away. In the interim, a children's playground will be installed next year featuring hand-carved wooden animals one would find in a zoo for yougnsters to play on.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.