One of the many eccentric pleasures of growing up in Worcester was going to the Higgins Armory, a museum – make that the only “dedicated museum of armor in the western hemisphere, housing one of the few significant collections of knightly armor outside of Europe” – will be closing at the end of the year.
I probably haven’t been there in forty, maybe fifty, years, but I will be putting a visit on my list of to-do’s for 2013.
I probably went to the Higgins three or four times during my childhood, and pretty much all I remember about it is that it’s in a funky building, and it had dog armor as part of its exhibit.
My interest in armor is not even minimal. It’s non-existent.
Other than reading Hillary Mantel novels about the era of Henry VIII – which feature an occasional joust – I pretty much find the entire terrain boring: knights in armor, Crusades, Maid Marian, chastity belts, lily maids, lion hearts, Ivanhoe. Yawn!
Perhaps this is because I have no doubt whatsoever just what I would have been doing in this oh, so romantic world. Which would have been emptying the chamber pots for those lily maids.
So mostly I want to make a swan trip back to the Higgins Armory to see the funky building.
I’m not sure what will become of the funky building, but the oddball collection is moving to the (quite excellent) Worcester Art Museum, which already has some medieval stuff of its own, including a chapel that was imported rock by rock from Ye Olde Europa.
In any case, reading about the Museum’s imminent demise started me thinking about Worcester’s Great Industrial Era. And Worcester’s Great Industrialists, the stiffly upright, stiffly uptight WASPs who ruled the Worcester roost when I was a girl. They owned the businesses, they owned the newspaper, they dominated the cultural and social landscape [okay: what there was of it]. Sure, “we” got to be cops and firemen and schooleachers, the member of Congress, and (mostly) the mayor – apparently they had little interest in grubby city politics, once they’d changed the governance model to one with a weak mayor/strong city manager. But mostly they employed the Catholics. They lived in solid, Protestant ethic homes in solid, Protestant ethic neighborhoods. They lunched at “Put’s” – Putnam & Thurston, eating what I could only imagine to be bland, haute WASP foods.
Needless to say, I didn’t know any of them (other than the men who ran the company where m father worked: I told you that they employed the Catholics). I will confess that every time we drove through one of “their” neighborhoods, I felt a bit envious. How much more wonderful it would have been to live there, and look like a Breck girl, dress for dinner, play tennis and sail, know boys from Worcester Academy, etc. – rather than be a plain old Catholic me from Our Lady of the Angels.
Anyway, one of the Great Worcester Industrialist was John Woodman Higgins, benefactor and founder of his eponymous museum.
A graduate of Worcester Tech, Higgins’ first job was with the Plunger Elevator Company.
The Plunger Elevator Company!
They just do not name companies the way they used to.
Imagine trusting your life to an elevator called Plunger! Wheee…..
After Plunger, it was on to the almost equally charmingly named Worcester Ferrule and Manufacturing Company.
Ferrule and Manufacturing. How ‘bout that?
Anyway, F&M was more boringly renamed the Worcester Pressed Steel Company.
So Higgins long had an interest in things steel, which he turned into collecting armor, and then doing the good-citizen, contribute to the community sort of thing that the Great Worcester Industrialists did so darned well.
Anyway, I do want to get to the Higgins’ before it clanks to a close come December.
One more little remembrance of things past that’s going out of business.
Source of info on John Woodman Higgins: Wikipedia.