Whoa. Now that deserves a little investigation! We have been to some pretty impressive museums, so I asked him – and the rest of the group – what made it so interesting?
As it turns out, we all had similar answers. We most enjoyed the hands-on space they call “Castle Quest.” From the website, it had sounded more oriented toward young kids, and it does have a lot of activities for that age group, but it also had real metal helmets and a coat of chain mail and chest plate to try on that was large enough for an adult, but hung low enough (from chains) that a kid could slip into it. Really a very clever arrangement, hung in front of a mirror so you could see what you looked like. The helmets were attached with plastic-coated security cables, so you could easily try them on – and photograph each other – but not walk away with the artifacts.
They also had a cool machine that simulated the weight of pulling back a bowstring for different types of bows, with a digital readout of how far your arrow could go.
Of course what made this all the more interesting was that we had not only already walked through the 3rd and 4th floors full or armor, but we had watched a presentation on “Dressing a Stormtrooper and a Gothic Knight,” so we had some idea of all the pieces involved.
Oh, did I forget to mention that it was “Star Wars Day” at the Armory? Yes, that was some of the draw for our visit, though it was a mixed blessing because the museum was chock full of short caped visitors slashing their light sabers at their siblings, but it did allow us to see some interesting demonstrations – for instance a Jedi Master and a Sith in a light saber duel, and a Star Wars armor building demonstration, including some give-aways of a replica of the character Han Solo frozen in carbonite.*
Of course we have no room currently in our museum for a separate hands-on space, but our visit to the Armory brought home the point that pretty much everyone likes to have something to hold and examine, or to try on, especially when it’s from an earlier time or a different way of life. The trick is in making those experiences easy, safe for the artifacts (or replicas) and pertinent to the museum’s mission. Having managed all three, the Higgins Armory Museum got high votes from all of us.
*It was my lucky day, as I won one of those Han Solo replicas!