So, What is the Armory, Anyway?


Classmates who moved from New York City are perhaps familiar with a few of the armories scattered about Manhattan and other boroughs, as these cavernous buildings are popular for hosting art exhibitions and various other conventions. Further, all pub-goers probably understand there is something “military” about the Armory, as evidenced by the Humvees the Bonner’s staff will kindly instruct you not to rest your beer on. Some may have caught the name, Robert Wharton, among the list of Commanding Officers affixed to the entry hallway. Son of Joseph, Robert eschewed his studies at an early age to become a hatter’s apprentice and later the longest serving mayor of Philadelphia (14 years). However, few know that directly above that same entry hallway rests a $7 million flag, the Markoe Standard, believed to be the first common flag of the colonies (predating the Declaration of Independence by three years). The top left corner contains a stripe for each colony and if you look closely you can see a faint red, superimposed Union Jack which was deliberately painted over after declaring independence from Great Britain.

The 23rd Street Armory, built in 1900, is unique in that it is not government property, rather it is privately owned by the members of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. The “Troop” (there are currently 35 or so “Troopers”) is almost certainly the quirkiest unit in the entire U.S. military. A bona fide cavalry unit[1] in the Army National Guard[2], the Troop, which received its charter from George Washington for perpetuity, has been activated five times since 9/11, serving in such countries as Bosnia and Iraq. However, unlike other Guard units, the Troop’s existence predates the Militia Act of 1792 affording it the ability to maintain several idiosyncrasies, such as voting in new members after a “fraternity rush” type courtship period that includes much time spent at the lavish bar which resides above the entry hallway and attendance at occasionally raucous dinners held on the first Monday of each month in the elegant dining hall. With Officers chosen democratically as well, the Troop in many ways resembles a corporation – with the commanding officer resembling the CEO and lieutenants acting as VPs. This is necessary as the Troop must maintain the Armory based on its revenue streams, one of which is MBA Pub. The main source of revenue, however, comes from the paychecks the Troopers receive from the Guard for their service. That’s right, when the Troop piles into Humvees at 3 am on a Saturday morning for a field exercise and returns late Sunday night, all of the pay is donated back to the Troop. Upon invitation to join, Troopers are given a rosette (amulet worn on a blazer), a sequential numerical identifier[3] and a legal document in which they sign over their pay via power of attorney.

The Troop also maintains the John Francis Boyer memorial scholarship fund. Boyer was killed as an undergraduate at Penn in 1954 and his father, then the CEO of Smith Kline, funded the Boyer Scholars. One Trooper each year under the age of 28 is sent to a foreign country to receive a graduate level degree and conversely, a foreign military candidate (often studying at Penn) becomes an honorary Trooper and is supported by the Troop.

The Troop has attracted numerous politicians, prominent businessmen, and civil servants since its inception in 1774. The first ambassador to China, three Secretaries of Defense, a Speaker of the House, and the third man to walk on the moon were all Troopers. In fact, State Trooper policemen were named after the Troop and their unique campaign hats are based on antiquated Trooper uniforms. The Armory’s extensive museum contains the largest collection of cavalry side-arms (e.g. guns, swords) in the U.S.

The veterans club was recently given a tour of the Armory by Jack Tomarchio, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, and despite holding the rank of Colonel in the proper Army, served as a Sergeant (initially as a cook) during his time in the Troop. Jack shared numerous stories with us about the Troop, far too many than I have space to share here, but if you’re interested in learning more those in attendance are happy to share over a beer at pub. In closing, I’ll share a phrase Jack espoused: the troop cannot be explained it can only be understood. Hopefully the next time you walk into the Armory you can take a minute to remember the Troopers that escorted Washington across the Delaware and guarded him during the Battle of Trenton, a pivotal period that directly contributed to the formation of the United States of America.

[1] Cavalry began as horseback troops, and Troopers are still required to take riding lessons, more recently cavalry has evolved into a mechanized, armored force e.g. tanks, etc.

[2] A reserve force of soldiers that hold civilian jobs, train one weekend a month, two weeks a year and can be recalled particularly in wartime periods

[3] Now in the mid-2,000s, however the “volunteer troop” of ~40 from World War I never received numbers

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