I couldn’t pass up the opportunity on my recent visit to Amherst College to tour around “Gun Valley” (a.k.a., the Pioneer Valley) a bit. I had part of one afternoon and one morning, so I couldn’t see as much as I would have liked, but tried to hit the highlights. I began at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.
There is a self-guided walking tour of the grounds of the enormous site (a large part of which has been turned into Springfield Technical Community College), but because time was short and it was FREEZING (temps in the 20s) and windy outside (look at the flag in the picture below), I just explored the indoor part of the site.
The museum exhibits all fit on one floor of the building. To the right are exhibits about the evolution of the manufacturing process at Springfield Armory, and to the left are exhibits of guns (not just those manufactured at Springfield Armory).
Although it is interesting to observe the development of gun manufacturing from the hand craft age to the machine age — to see the “machines that make the machines” — I tend to focus on the social aspects of those processes. I was interested to see, therefore, a display on the gun industry equivalent of “Rosie the Riveter”: the Women Ordinance Workers (WOW!).
The centerpiece of the firearms collection is the “Organ of Muskets.” Filled with 645 Springfield US Model 1861 rifles, it replicates the racks that the armory workers used to store the firearms they manufactured. Not visible in the picture I took is the text of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s anti-war poem, “The Arsenal at Springfield,” written after his visit to the Springfield Armory in 1843. In it, he uses the term “organ” to describe what he saw:
This is the Arsenal. From floor to ceiling,
Like a huge organ, rise the burnished arms;
But from their silent pipes no anthem pealing
Startles the villages with strange alarms.
For me the highlight of the gun collection was a 14th century “hand cannon.” As my writing accountability partner knows all too well, I love the “hand cannon”! It seems to me to be such an important technological development in the history of hand held weaponry and I had never seen one in person.
The museum description says it was hard to operate, though I wonder if it would have been much harder for me than a modern day “hand cannon” was.