- Associated Press - Saturday, November 14, 2015

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - The box sat in Kathy Maher’s office at the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport for 12 years.

All she knew was that it was a samurai box with a red leather cover and a gold family crest. It probably held a suit of armor, like those on display at the Yale Peabody Museum’s samurai exhibit, but who really knew?

“I’ve been waiting for 12 years to see what’s in this box, so no one’s more excited than me,” said Maher, executive director of the Barnum, on Saturday, as the wooden box was finally opened.

The first item to emerge was the most impressive, an iron and brass or bronze helmet with silk cords.

“It was mind-blowing. I could not believe how cool that was,” said Stephen O’Leary, 11, of New Haven.

Catherine Sease, senior conservator of the Peabody, and Adrienne Saint-Pierre, curator of the Barnum, took charge of carefully removing the various items from the box, and the number of pieces amazed Heather Mackenzie, 13, of Guilford, who said she was nervous that the box wouldn’t hold much.

“It was insane how much they were able to pack into it and still it was in really good condition,” said Heather, who has visited relatives in Japan three times.

It turned out that the box contained what appeared to be a complete suit of decorative armor of a Japanese warrior: a breast plate, shin and arm guards, even a nose covering. One mystery, though, is that there were at least three family crests on the various pieces. On the cover, was a symbol of four diamonds in a circle, which is believed to represent the Matsumae clan and could have been as old as the 16th century or as recent as the 19th.

Robert Wheeler, professor emeritus of engineering and applied science at Yale, estimated that it was from the early 1800s, possibly earlier.

Once the box was finally empty and the armor, made of iron, leather, lacquer and steel, were set out for people to see and photograph, Saint-Pierre said, “The question that comes to mind right away . is do we have a complete suit here?”

It certainly seemed so, even including two face masks.

Sease said that all but one piece, which was fragile because of the red dye used on it, were “in pretty good condition and could go on display.”

For those who don’t want to wait, there are three other samurai boxes on display at the Peabody in a special exhibit about Japan and its history.


Information from: New Haven Register, https://www.nhregister.com

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