Rainy day? Deadly humidity and temps of 100? When you’re tired of the pool, or the skanky pond in your hometown, hit a museum! While we moved away from the Worcester, Massachusetts area about 3 years ago, we still go back to visit friends there on occasion, and there are approximately three attractions in Worcester that are worth traveling to. (Sorry Worcester). The Higgins Armory Museum is most certainly one of these.
The man who assembled this collection of arms and armor, John Woodman Higgins, was evidently quite the eccentric. How fitting then that the portrait of him hanging in one of the galleries is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. Gazing up expectantly at…what? An empty suit of armor? A man dressed as knight? Higgins appears ready to sweep the clattering metal figure onto his bony lap and stroke its pointed bascinet.
Nonetheless, I am grateful to people like Higgins who collect and collect and collect, and leave behind this kind of memorial. For those of us without the means to travel to Europe, this collection, “one of the few significant collections of knightly armor outside Europe” gives us a chance we would have nowhere else here in New England, certainly. And I say this despite my usual derision of Worcester.
Perched atop one of the city’s famed hills, the Armory is an imposing building several stories tall. My sons were in love before we were even out of the car. Inside, the boys were captivated by the play gallery, where kids can build a castle, complete with faux stone arch, and no one gets hurt when they start smashing each other in the face with the gray vinyl blocks. There’s a dress up area, and a chance to try on the staggering weight of a mail shirt and breastplate. An outsized medievally-themed version of Battleship kept them amused for a surprisingly long time.
Ideally, one moves on from the play gallery only once the children have worked out their destructive energies, because the remaining galleries are your standard look-but-don’t-touch sort. Still, the top floor galleries are constructed to resemble a castle, and have just the right amount of darkness and dankness. The variety of armor and weapons is truly impressive, and apparently accommodated all body types, including this suit of armor made for the pear-shaped knight. One imagines that the suit is lined in Mom jeans:
Another fascinating find: many suits of jousting armor with what are termed “lance shields” built in, ostensibly to bear the full force of a lance impacting the torso. I submit to you, however, their striking similarity to the “nursing covers” used by yuppie moms to offer surreptitious sustenance to their infants.
Perhaps I was particularly enamored by this museum because I am simultaneously watching the Showtime series The Tudors, and reading Hilary Mantel’s new book Bring Up the Bodies, about the fall of Anne Boleyn. That notwithstanding, if you have any interest in history whatsoever, I think you will enjoy this well curated and well presented museum.