One of Santa's elves reads to a group of eager children at Santa's Winter Wonderland.
DALTON, Mass. — The Crane family's mansion seemed built especially for jolly elves, as the space was transformed this past weekend to house Santa's Winter Wonderland, a free, festive event organized by community volunteers.
Portraits of the famed local family looked over a long line of parents and their children trailing around a tree-ornament workshop, a wintery train and coloring station, decorative pines, carolers, elves and Mr. and Mrs. Claus sharing greetings and fielding gift suggestions.
Located off Main Street, the drive to Crane Model Farm felt much like a holiday safari of inanimate objects. Glowing bags lit the winding pathway from Route 7 as large, inflatable characters showed signs of welcome.
Around a bend was an oversized, Christmas-inspired train from L.P. Adams Co., equipped with an elaborate lighting scheme. Inside, Eric Pratt, a Dalton resident an employee of CSX Corp., toured the event with his wife, daughter and grandchildren. Pratt's neighbor, John Kelly of Kelly's Package Store, helped coordinate the event, one of a number of local vendors Pratt noticed contributing to its success.
"That's what I see. You look at the different things — coupons from [Dalton] Lawn & Garden — that's just a mom-and-pop kind of place. That's what most of these places are," Pratt said.
The event didn't just pop up, but was the result of hundreds hours of volunteer labor spearheaded by organizer Stephanie Trager. The last few years, Crane Model Farm has hosted the free two-day event.
Last season, 2,400 people visited the mansion. Together, Trager and boyfriend John Worth spent more than 100 hours working with their many volunteers to decorate the interior, in an effort, Trager said, to simply to allow kids to meet Santa for free.
Tom Gardner donned a suit and top hat and joined his wife as one of Santa's helpers, volunteering because Trager was was a classmate of his daughter, who was a character in the "elegant" room.
"The feedback [from] the parents and the kids, they say it gets better every year," Gardner said. "A lot of work went into this. I helped a little bit, but nothing like Stephanie and some of her crew. Everybody's a volunteer. They put in a lot of time."
Each year, a slew of local groups volunteer for the two-day event. This year, Wahconah football players lugged all of the heavy holiday stuff used to entertain guests. Last year, it was the hockey team. Throughout the weekend, chorus members from both Wahconah Regional and Pittsfield's Taconic High schools performed a musical backdrop for visitors.
Worth said when more coloring materials was needed for kids, Trager contacted the Dalton Community Recreation Association, for which Trager coached the Dalton Otters swim team for a number of years.
Trees decorated in unique themes were positioned throughout the venue, conceived by and donated on behalf of organizations like Performance Fitness Group and Touponce Garden & Lawn Service.
The landscape outside the Crane mansion was decked out with decorations, like a labyrinth of lights and ornaments, fit with an electric cascading waterfall. Small buildings scattered outside shared striking characteristics with homemade gingerbread houses. From one, Juice N' Java served hot beverages for those walking about the Dr. Seuss-inspired recreation of Whoville.
After two hours on Friday, more than 600 people had entered the Crane mansion. Despite frigid temperatures, the parking lot was packed with cars and a line of people were bundled outside waiting to gain entrance.
In the main room inside, Sydney Smith, 16, said her friend's mother heads a local Girl Scout troop that agreed to provide elves for the event, so she and group of friends joined in as a result. She got costumed on Friday night to help run a table offering all sorts of materials for kids to make handmade tree ornaments.
"I thought it would be really fun, interacting with the kids and seeing them, what they wanted for Christmas from Santa. Things change over time. When I was little, I wanted Barbies and stuff for Christmas and now they're all like, "I want a Leap Frog tablet,'" Smith, a student at Wahconah Regional High School, said.
Anthony Albano, a former neighbor of Trager, has been taking his son to the event since it started. The event can be exhausting, he said, but a chance to talk with Santa can give children a renewed sense of enthusiasm.
"The kids, they get tired. But by the end, they're all worked up," Albano said.