Opening the large, heavy doors of the dark travel trunk at Delaware County Historical Society gives a peek into the world of a Pennsylvania Military College student in the 20th century.
With “McK” in red letters next to its leather handle, the case belonged to John Gunning McKay Jr., a member of PMC’s class of 1938.
Pennsylvania Military College began as The Bullock School for Boys in 1821 in Wilmington, Del. with the leadership of John Bullock. It was under the tutelage of Theodore Hyatt that the military component was introduced to the school, after he found some students practicing military drills in the gym.
The school moved to Chester in 1862 and in 1892, it became known as Pennsylvania Military College.
In 1972, amongst the environment of the Vietnam War, the school disbanded its Corps of Cadets and was named Widener College, in memory of Eleanor Elkins Widener of the prominent Widener family in Philadelphia. Seven years later, the college became Widener University.
When it was Pennsylvania Military College, McKay studied there and was a member of the staff of the “Sabre and Staff” yearbook of 1937.
Inside his chest are several uniforms, including a ankle-length dress winter coat and other accoutrements linked to his time at the College.
The trunk opens. On the left, two rods, extending for easier use, hold pieces of hanging attire.On the right, four cloth drawers contain belts, buttons and even a maroon scarf.
It also includes a sepia picture of McKay as a student adorning his military blues.
Some of the attire in the chest include a woolen blue dress tunic with collar buttons reading, “Pennsylvania Military College Chester”; a caped coat with “U.S. ROTC” embroidered on its sleeve; and a lighter weight white coat sporting “P. M.C.” and crossed firearms pins on each of its lapels.
Three of the badges feature the coat of arms of the United States with the bald eagle holding the flag, and a talon full of arrows and another with an olive branch. The image is known from its appearance on the cover of American passports.
The McKay chest is stored/held at the home of Delaware County Historical Society at 408 Avenue of the States in Chester. It is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday; and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month. It is closed on Tuesdays. Appointments are also available upon request. Parking is free in the lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot.
For more information, ways to get involved or to contribute items of historic significance, please call 610-359-0832.
The travel trunk of John G. McKay Jr., who graduated from the Pennsylvania Military College in 1938, is in the collection of Delaware County Historical Society.
Here is the wool uniform worn by John G. McKay when he was a PMC student.
The white uniform is lighter in material for warmer days.