Ruth Bass: Galloping horses of carousel are worth the long wait

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RICHMOND — Colorful horses galloping to the music of a calliope did their best prancing between 1880 and 1930, an era that earned the name of the Golden Age of Carousels. But what's going on at the bottom of the hill on Pittsfield's West Street is certainly glittering with a brand new stable of horses.

This is the long-awaited Berkshire Carousel, complete with paintings of Berkshire scenes by local artists and populated with beautiful glossy steeds, carved and painted here. If you heard a huge sigh over the county on the Fourth of July, it was probably hundreds of Berkshire Carousel volunteers exhaling. Their major work was done, and it had to be a relief to hear the music and see the motion.

The county has always had people willing to step to the plate and help out with projects, but perhaps never more devotedly than the crew that created this.

It's taken more than 10 years for the Berkshire Carousel dream to come true, perhaps a fine lesson in the art of waiting and hoping. The original dreamers, former resident Jim Shulman and his wife, Jackie, must have had moments of wondering and worrying, but they hung in there through the long months of carving and painting, the concerns about funding and a series of controversies over where the carousel should be.

Shulman wanted it in Pittsfield, and he had purchased land at the corner of South Church and Center streets in Pittsfield as the site for his dream. Several years ago, while the location was still in question, we bumped into Jim at a North Street restaurant and asked him what the answer would be. Berkshire Mall had expressed an interest, as well as the town of Dalton. Some wanted the new attraction to go on The Common in Pittsfield. Jim told us he felt it would end up where he wanted it to be.

And so, exotic horses, plus a Kevin O'Hara donkey named Missy, rise and fall to music on the plot he bought years ago, and there's a smile on every rider's face, mine reflecting the one on granddaughter Hannah's face. The merry-go-round never grows old, nor do its riders. Following tradition, the carousel has stationary chariots for those who either can't or don't want to climb on a horse and a more exciting tub that whirls for non-riders who want a little extra pizzazz .

If you're a little young or a little old for swinging your leg over a horse and still hope to ride, however, the Berkshire Carousel staff is there to give small, large and elderly a boost. And when the music stops, the operator makes sure that short people and ancient people are astride a horse that's down low for easy dismounting.

We called to find out when the new attraction was open. Most of the time, it turns out — daily, meaning seven days a week, and year 'round. In an era dominated by cellphones, computers and clicking fingers, it's amazing to have a new, authentic, classic carousel in the middle of Pittsfield.

It's not all new, actually. The backbone of the Berkshire Carousel is a 1928 mechanism restored and refurbished in Ohio. It was made by the Herschell Co. of North Tonawanda, N.Y., and the world, of course, remains small. Herschell built the Berkshires' first carousel in the early 1900s and also manufactured engines for Berkshire Automobile and the Stilson Six, two cars built in the Berkshires in the early 1900s.

What goes around comes around, and now we can complete the circle to music.

Ruth Bass hopes everyone loves a merry-go-round. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.


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