It is an unlikely museum in an unlikely location featuring knights in armor, their horses, chain mail and re-enactments of "games" using swords, helmets and ornate suits of armor. Walk through the door at the world-renown Higgins Armory and stand in the center of the Great Hall for scenes out of history. Higgins Armory preserves the period from the Renaissance to the medieval ages.
John Woodman Higgins
The lifelong dream of John Woodman Higgins is inside the steel and glass 4-story building that houses his extensive collection of arms and armor. He built this first-of-its-kind structure in 1929 on Barber Avenue in Worcester, MA, USA. This is also the only structure that protects a dramatic medieval castle. Strangely, that castle is near a major highway and in a highly populated city setting.
Higgins was a resident of Worcester and leading industrialist of his era. Although his hobby was slightly unusual, his private collection grew to enormous proportions - far beyond the space allotted in a family hobby room. Eventually, the artifacts needed a larger space for display purposes, which led Higgins to build this home for it. Sheltered within the steel and glass structure is the Gothic castle of grand proportions fit for a collection that keeps on growing.
When John Higgins died in 1961, this priceless and extensive collection became a public inheritance. Twenty years later, the museum took its rightful spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Only one year earlier, the immense collection inside the unusual structure passed from the control of the Higgins family and into the hands of a public governing board.
About the Collection
At the last count, the European portion of the museum was the home of:
- 3,000 armors and their components
- 1,000 weapons with various parts and pieces
- 500 daggers and swords
- 100 firearms
The inventory also includes one well-preserved tapestry, paintings, wooden carvings and period artifacts.
Another collection in this building combines weapons, daggers and swords from other eras and various places around the world. The pieces of this particular collection number about 1,000 items. They come from Africa, India, Japan and Islamic cultures. The Higgins Armory Museum claims ownership and displays of more than 1,000 years of arms and armor.
Helmets and Swords
The exhibit of helmets serves to educate visitors to the Roman passion for war games. Crowds would fill an amphitheater and watch gladiators fight each other - or some wild animals. Spectators would even place bets as to the outcome of certain engagements.
Most gladiators were slaves or criminals. They had permission to use a bronze helmet and metal shin guards for protection. For defense, they had a Greek-style large round shield and a very short sword.
Academy of the Sword
Appropriately, the Higgins Armory Museum ranks with the world's most important and prestigious centers specializing in the study of combat arts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Period. The classes offered at the museum range from learning about the knightly longsword, the rapier, the dueling saber and some staff weapons. Modern fencing along with demonstrations and seminars in the lost or forgotten martial arts are popular with visitors and members alike.
Anyone can drop into the short workshops, which last an hour or less. These include "Art of Swordplay" and "Axe, Sword and Shield" as two examples. Swords were also part of the castle decor hung auspiciously to impress visitors. Splendor and pageantry were essential elements of life in Medieval and Renaissance times. You can see it all in the demonstrations held for visitors to the Great Hall.
The Curious Collection
Professor Rufus Excalibur Bell heads The Higgins Armory Museum, Department of Curiosities. The most curious conundrum is that Professor has been missing for decades. Based on the sporadic arrival of boxes and crates from various parts of the globe, everyone assumes he is roaming about studying mythology and dragon lore.
So many pieces have come from Professor, that the museum now calls it a collection. "The Curious Collection of Professor Rufus Excalibur Bell" is open to the public from January 2011 through December 2011. You can keep abreast of the growth and display of the curious collection with a museum membership, although one-time admission is extremely reasonable.