Farewell to Higgins Armory Museum

Posted on January 10th, 2014 by Katie Faulkner

Posted under: Things We Like

Many of you may know that on December 31, Worcester’s Higgins Armory Museum closed its doors after 83 years of operation.  This had been announced earlier in the year, and I scheduled a couple of visits to say our formal farewells.  The Armory has become a family favorite – both for its amazing exhibits and its overall strange existence. Anyone travelling north of Boston on I-90 has passed the steel and glass structure, festooned daily with billowing flags and a bowsprit knight.  If you did not ask yourself what it was doing there, shame on you.

It is unclear what will become of the 42,000 square foot building; the 24 suits of armor and incredible collection of oddities will integrate with the holdings of the Worcester Art Museum.  Apparently the Higgins had been running in the red for years, and they repeatedly turned down offers from major institutions to purchase the collection.  I can imagine that Higgins loyalists would not want to separate the armor from the building, the interior of which is nothing short of a medieval castle, with pointed arches, high stone ceilings, and several large steeds roaming the halls.

John Higgins was an industrialist who owned the Worcester Pressed Steel Company.  Suits of armor were his passion, and in 1929 he built a museum next to his factory, appropriately mannered with a steel exoskeleton over glass skin. Being in the building was a strange experience of traveling back and forth in time – cloisters and great halls on every floor connected by muscular steel and glass staircases.  But the greatest thing of course, has always been the collection.  I am a nut for chainmail, and there was a lot of it – not only with the 13th through 16th century European armors, but Asian and Middle Eastern as well.  While I have longed to wear it, mail (maille) weighs a ton which is why you only see it as something you would not be caught dead in, as furniture, or on runway mannequins. Maybe the 21st century laser-cut dress will allow us to put it back in style, clingy yet practical with just the right amount of sparkle.

My sons were always disappointed that John Higgins was not much into swords and other weaponry.  There is the odd battle-ax, lance and maul, but they are not the stars of the show.  The Higgins Armory was all about male fashion, and this kind of fashion needs no accessorizing. So if you can arrange a visit to the Armory building, run don’t walk.  Otherwise, visit WAM in the Spring when they launch their show “Knights!”



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