The silver watch case shows signs of wear, an indicator that Dr. O'Farrell wore it and consulted it, perhaps to measure a patient's pulse
My colleague Diane Wendt's excellent work on a Civil War nurse reminded me that the museum has a closely related object -- a Civil War surgeon's pocket watch. More than two decades ago, I had collected the watch to document a critical technical episode in the early history of the American watch industry. Recently I pulled the watch out of storage for a closer look. It was as though I was seeing the watch for the first time, with a heightened appreciation for its Civil War roots.
The watch's most distinguishing feature is an interior inscription. On the dust cap that covers the movement, the engraving reads: "White Hall USA Gen'l Hospital, Feb. 15, 1865 Presented to Dr. G. D. O'Farrell, USA, by the patients of Ward C as a token of regard & respect for his ability as a surgeon and unswerving integrity as a man."
A little digging over the past few days (OK, a little Web surfing) allowed me to sketch an outline of the life of the surgeon who received this gift. Gerald Dunne O'Farrell was born in Ireland in 1836 and had medical training at the University of Pennsylvania, class of '62. From March of 1863 through the end of July 1865, he served as assistant surgeon with the 63rd and 215th Pennsylvania Regiments. He settled after the war in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, married Eliza M. Broffy -- also from Ireland -- in 1866, and together they had a son G. D. O'Farrell Jr., another Penn graduate, class of '94. A physician to the end, the senior O'Farrell died on a house call on March 27, 1902.