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Choose your Weapon! at the Higgins Armory Museum
 
AAA Horizons
©2006 Marcheterre Fluet
Word count: 507

 
“This is a great place to bring your kids, especially on a rainy day!” When a Roman soldier from the 1st century AD recommends a trip to the Higgins Armory in Worcester, MA, who would argue? He’s probably right, and besides, he’s carrying a sword.

Whether you are a professional historian or a confirmed sword-in-the-stoner, the Higgins Armory is a must-see. The museum beautifully displays arms and armor from more periods than you are likely to see anywhere else in the US.

Worcester industrialist John Woodman Higgins created the Armory from the ground up; the building itself is a 1931 engineering artwork, with an externally-visible steel superstructure. The steel manufacturer’s passion for the historical use of metal – especially armor and weaponry – is a gift to more than 60,000 visitors annually. In Higgins’ words, “ If we can strike a spark and interest visitors…we are rewarded.”

Many sparks were struck to create each item on display, from a simple 4000-year-old Egyptian axe to the elaborate 1550 gauntlets of Prince Philip of Spain. In the Great Hall, life-sized jousting knights on horseback prepare for impact. Along the walls, suits of armor stand guard beneath shields and halberds, as jewelled light falls on the scene through a Rose Window in the Gothic arch. An excellent audio-wand tour, enhanced with period music, provides detailed insight on exhibits. Interpreters like Cynthia Dias-Reid are also at hand, happy to explain the use of the “catchpole” or point out detailed etching on a breastplate.

Check the Armory calendar and choose your weapon: special weekend programs include a Gothic Show featuring late-15th-century plate armor, crossbows and pole weapons, and “Pike and Shot,” focusing on the arms and armor of Shakespeare’s day. At any time, younger guests are welcome to seek adventure with irresistable costumes and hands-on activities in the Quest Room.

“People often want to go past the fantasy aspect, to the reality of the medieval and renaissance periods,” Neal Bourbeau, Program and Outreach Manager, explains. “Here, you can see the reality and stimulate imagination at the same time.” The Armory offers unique ways to experience the collection: imagine an on-site business meeting livened up by a historical combat demonstration, a wedding party where guests are greeted by an armored knight, a youth group “overknight” with medieval dinner, or a children’s birthday party with a knight-dubbing ceremony and a sword to cut the cake!

The Museum Shop carries a delightful array of jewelry, books, games and toys, but the most popular item? “Swords,” says clerk AnnMarie Cole firmly. “Every kind of sword.” For adult shoppers this includes the real thing, and if you need to complete your outfit, they’ve got helmets, too. In fact, the Museum offers formal classes in several branches of Historical Combat. Do students sit at desks? “No,” Bourbeau replies. “They stand, with swords.”

 

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©2006 Marcheterre Fluet.  Unauthorized use prohibited. Thank You.