David E. Schwulst, 53, a retired Marine Corps colonel who was director of museums for the Kentucky Historical Society from 1974 to 1979, died of cancer Thursday at the University of Maryland's Baltimore Cancer Research Center. He was a resident of Edgewater.

Col. Schwulst first served in the Marine Corps from 1950 to 1954, before joining the staff of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City. He returned to the corps in 1957, and from 1969 until retiring from active duty in 1973, was curator and director of the Marine Corps Museum, located in Quantico, Va.

He then spent five years as director of museums in Frankfort, Ky., before moving to Edgewater in 1979. Col. Schwulst was a native of Dallas and a 1950 graduate of Harvard University. He did graduate work in archeology at George Washington University.

He was a fellow of the Company of Military Historians and a member of the American Association of Museums.

Survivors include his wife, Mary Hamel-Schwulst of Edgewater; a son, Evan B., of Nashville; a daughter, Carolyn G. Schwulst of Williamsburg; a sister, Leota Danforth of Oklahoma City, and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Bryan Schwulst of Southport, Conn.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Baltimore Cancer Research Center, University of Maryland Hospital, Baltimore, Md. 21201, or be in the form of blood donations to the Red Cross.