John Woodman Higgins' astounding collection of more than 70 suits of armor, plus hundreds of weapons and other artifacts of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, ancient Greece and Rome, and feudal Japan, fill the castle-like structure, providing an up-close look at the artistry and craftsmanship behind the combat gear worn by legendary knights and Crusaders.
Higgins built the four-story museum in 1929, and the "Great Hall," modeled after those found in European castles, opened to the public in 1931. The museum was family-operated even after Higgins' death in 1961, when the building and its collections were endowed to the public. In 1979, management passed to a not-for-profit governing board. In 1980, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A visit to the museum begins with a stop in the Orientation Gallery on the first floor, followed by an elevator journey to the fourth floor gallery, where the focus is on armor from the ancient world. Among the artifacts exhibited is a rare Roman gladiator's helmet. The fourth floor also houses a "Hunting Gallery," which features the development of hunting weapons over the centuries.
From the fourth floor, you will descend into the Great Hall, where cold, metallic faces seemingly peer at you from every corner, as if they are awaiting your first false move. Some of these "stuffed suits" simply stand at attention, inviting you to come close and to marvel at the intricacies of their design. Others are positioned in combat poses, lances drawn, horses charging. While some armor was designed for ceremony or sport, many knights were true warriors, and their suits of armor were designed to protect them in battle. Most of the armor you'll see was tailor-made for the wearer, and you'll find yourself speculating about the men who donned these fearsome costumes and headed off to face enemies unknown. A stroll through the Great Hall provides a remarkable education in the evolution of arms and armor, from about 1000 to 1650 A.D.
Your self-guided tour (audio tours are available for an additional charge) ends at Castle Quest, where children can model Medieval and Renaissance garb, try on a variety of helmets, play games and build a medieval arch.
The Higgins Armory Museum offers special exhibits, lectures and other programs throughout the year--call 508-853-6015 for a current schedule of events. In addition, the museum rents the Great Hall for weddings and other functions and also offers birthday parties and "OverKnights" for kids.
Getting There: The Higgins Armory Museum is located at 100 Barber Avenue in Worcester, Massachusetts. From the Mass Pike (I-90) East: Take exit 10 for I-290 East. Follow I-290 to exit 19 for I-190 North. From I-190, take Exit 1 for Route 12 North. Follow Route 12/West Boylston Street for 1/4 mile and pass the Greendale Mall. Stay in the right lane over the railroad bridge, then make a sharp right onto Barber Avenue. Continue less than 1/4 mile to the museum, a tall glass and steel building with pennants on the roof. From the Mass Pike (I-90) West: Take Exit 11A for I-495 North. Follow I-495 North to Exit 25B for I-290 West. Take I-290 West to Exit 19 for I-190 North and proceed as above. Parking at the museum is free.
Hours: As of 2012, the Higgins Armory Museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.
Admission: Admission prices as of 2012 are $12 for adults, $7 for children ages 4 to 16 and free for children ages 3 and under. Seniors and college students with ID are admitted for $9. Seniors receive an extra $1 off admission on Tuesdays.
Nearby Hotels: Compare rates at Worcester Hotels.
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