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Doctor contemplates dangers of walking alone at night after 1906 close encounter

This photo from Steve Chou’s collection shows the building at the northwest corner of Hill and Main Street in Hannibal, where Dr. J.J. Farrell’s father, Pat, operated a saloon. Dr. Farrell was reportedly born at this location.


In the darkness of the early morning hours of April 30, 1906, Dr. John J. Farrell, 26, a native of the same town where he was now practicing medicine, was walking home alone following a late night medical call. Reaching the 500 block of Church Street, the old Catholic chapel in midblock at his right, and the home on South Sixth Street that the bachelor doctor shared with his parents and sister was easily within eyesight.

Out of the darkness, to the doctor’s complete surprise, jumped a tall and stocky man pointing a revolver at the doctor’s head. A second man jumped into view, and backed the doctor into the alleyway.

“What have you got in your hand?” The second man asked the doctor. A medicine case, the doctor responded. With that, the two men - described by Dr. Farrell as highwaymen - fled without another word.

He didn’t have whatever they were after, the doctor surmised, as he completed his walk home.

He wasn’t afraid, he said, until he sat down inside, and contemplated what could have been …

That’s the story the Quincy Daily Herald printed on its front page the following day.

Well known

Dr. Farrell was well known in both Hannibal and Quincy, having attended parochial and public schools in Hannibal during his youth, and fraternizing with the Missouri and Illinois social circles as a young man.

Reporters of the era routinely gathered the comings and goings of people of interest at the train stations, and Dr. Farrell’s name was frequently mentioned in “about town” columns.

* Quincy Daily Journal, Nov. 19, 1904: John Burke and Miss Anna Burke and Dr. Farrell, all of Hannibal, came up last night to see “Everyman” at the Empire.

* Quincy Daily Herald, Feb. 17, 1905: Dr. J.J. Farrell, of Hannibal, was in the city last night and attended the entertainment of the Knights of Columbus.

* Quincy Daily Whig, Oct. 3, 1919: Henry Riedel, president of the Hannibal Chamber of Commerce, Dr. J.J. Farrell and attorney Berryman Henwood went to Chicago Thursday to attend the world’s series games between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds.

Born in Hannibal

John Joseph Farrell was born circa 1878 in Hannibal, to Pat J. and Katherine (Solan) Farrell. Pat was a Hannibal businessman, immigrating to the United States from Ireland in 1846, and marrying Katherine, from Alton, Ill., in 1875. His name is frequently associated in historic documents as operating a dram shop (saloon) within the city of Hannibal.

The 1879 Hannibal City Directory (the approximate year his son John was born) lists Pat Farrell’s saloon and residence on the northwest corner of Main and Hill streets, directly east of the house, which had earlier served as the boyhood home of Sam Clemens.

By 1885, Pat Farrell was successful enough in business to construct the three-story Italianate thusly named the Farrell Building, on the southwest corner of Main and Broadway. The city directory at the turn of the century listed Pat Farrell as a capitalist.

A few of the most notable occupants of the Farrell Building:

The Hannibal Journal announced plans on Jan. 1, 1886, to occupy quarters in the new Farrell Building. “It will have the most commodious and handsomest office in Northeast Missouri.” The Quincy Daily Whig boasted.

In 1895, the Hannibal Commercial College and the J.P. Richards men’s clothing store occupied space in the building.

As early as 1905, Dr. J.J. Farrell had his office on the second floor of the Farrell building.

In 1917, Dr. Farrell took out a recruitment ad in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, offering prime office space for rent: “Dr. Dentist – to occupy rooms in building; best located in city; this has been an established dental office for 27 years. Dr. J.J. Farrell, Hannibal, Mo.” St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sept. 16, 1917,

The following year, Elbert D. Ireland, dentist, had his office situated in the building.

In 1925, occupants included John W. Opp, dentist, Dr. Farrell, and the J.P. Richards Clothing store.

The stately appearance of the building in 2016 can be credited to restoration work circa 2005, completed by River City Restoration.

Family connections

Dr. Farrell, who still has direct descendants living in Hannibal, was 41 years old in 1919, when he married Beatrice Isbister, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Isbister, who lived on Church Street.

But prior to this there was another marriage, to Miss Stella Morrison, daughter of Albert R. and Carrie M. Morrison, native of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Newspaper reports from 1915 noted that Dr. Farrell and his bride married in 1914, yet kept the marriage a secret for a year prior to the new Mrs. Farrell’s move to Hannibal in August 1915. The union ended sadly on Jan. 20, 1917, with Stella Farrell’s death. The cause of death was listed on official documents as peritonitis, her sister was at her bedside when she died, and burial took place in Kansas City.

Elks lodge

Dr. Farrell and Hannibal businessman Andy J. Settles are credited with the establishment of an Elks Lodge in Hannibal. A reported 72 Elks from Quincy, Ill., arrived in Hannibal on the 3:30 p.m. train on May 2, 1909, and followed a parade led by Hannibal’s First Regiment Band from the depot up the street to the opera house where festivities were set to begin.

The Quincy lodge members also brought along their mascot, a goat.

The Quincy Daily Journal reported the following officers were elected:

Exalted ruler: Dr. J.J. Farrell

Esteemed leading knight: George Petter

Esteemed loyal knight: J.J. Brown Jr.

Esteemed lecturing knight: W.S. Wheeler

Treasurer: A.J. Settles

Secretary: Clarence Parks

Tyler: George Pennoyer

Trustees: J.P. Richards, three years; John Stone, two years; E.V. Settles, one year.


A man identified as Howard Curtis was arrested in the summer of 1915 and charged with forging the name of J.J. Farrell M.D. of Hannibal on two checks. The Quincy Daily Herald reported that Curtis had struck up friendly conversations with clerks at the Quincy and Park hotels in Quincy, who in turn cashed the checks. Curtis left for St. Louis, where he was arrested. On June 21, 1915, Curtis was brought before the Justice of the Peace in Hannibal, and entered a guilty plea. His bond was set at $1,000, and he was held for the grand jury.

Family home

Pat Farrell moved his family to a two-story residence on South Fifth Street sometime around the beginning of the 20th Century. The extended family remained in this large house until the death of the family patriarch in 1918.

Sometime following Dr. Farrell’s marriage to Beatrice, the young couple moved first to 615 Bird St. In 1925 they were living at 2400 Broadway, next door to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

Dr. Farrell’s sister and brother-in-law, Mae and John B. Herl Jr., made their home at 209 S. Fifth until after Mae’s death in 1944.

Family deaths

Mrs. Katherine Farrell died in 1916 and her husband, Patrick, died in April 1918. They are buried in Holy Family Cemetery.

Dr. J.J. Farrell died in 1933, and his wife Beatrice died in 1959. They are buried at Holy Family Cemetery.

Mae Farrell Herl, Dr. Farrell’s sister, died in 1944. She is buried at Holy Family Cemetery. She was married to John B. Herl Jr.

Mary Katherine Farrell Scoville, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. J.J. Farrell, died in 1974, and is buried at Grand View Burial Park alongside her husband, Ira Scoville, who died in 1980.

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