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This story came to my attention while researching something else and reading the Pine Plains Register newspaper of September 25th, 1903.

“Dr. H. H. Cate, who was found by his brother in law at the Morgan House in Po’keepsie in a demented condition and taken to his home at Lakewood, N.J., several weeks ago, was removed to a sanitarium at Goshen, Thursday morning. The doctor was examined by a physician, and is thought to have a clot of blood on his brain, said to have been caused by a blow, which apparently accounts for his loss of memory. The doctor remembers receiving the blow, but cannot recollect when and where he received it. He is somewhat improved physically, but mentally his condition remains the same. He fails to recognize any of his friends or surroundings and will probably remain at the sanitarium until an operation can be safely performed.”

I had to know more. Here’s his story.

Dr. Henry Hamilton Cate (“Harry” to his friends) was born in January 1859 in either New Hampshire or Massachusetts to Dr. Hamilton H. Cate (1825–1898) and Mary Delicia Plant (1829–1866). He and his father removed to New Jersey at some point and they both practiced medicine there. Cate was described as a “homeopathic physician” and took over their medical practice in Lakewood, NJ from his father. 

According to his own testimony, this New Jersey doctor was in New York City on April 21st, 1903 to do some unnamed business and visit a former patient, a Mrs. Barker of 49 W 57th St. He left her residence around 9 pm and went for a walk that took him through Grand Central Station and down to a construction site near 38th St. and 5th Ave. By the report in the New York Sun of October 25th, 1903, he was trying to get up on a scaffolding to get a better look at the site when someone shouted “Quick!” and he was struck on the back of the head.

The papers said he had between $2000 and $2500 in cash on his person at the time, though he would later claim it was $3000. His wallet was found the following day near the site with his calling card, a business card for his insurance company, but surprise, no cash. 

The police told the New York papers that they thought that perhaps he’d gone temporarily insane, though there’s nothing in the reporting that supports that idea. The papers were sure he’d been mugged for the large amount of cash he’d been carrying and probably murdered. A later account said he was having some financial difficulties at the time. 

Cate claimed he remembered nothing but briefly came to his senses in Kansas City. Supposedly suffering from amnesia, he had somehow managed to travel out west and lived like a hobo with no idea who he was before returning to the Hudson Valley months later. Cate was identified in August while staying at the Morgan House in Poughkeepsie by his sister-in-law Mary Canfield Wilkinson (Mrs. John G., sister of Cate’s first wife Tassie) from Newburg. He was calling himself G. Foster and it could be that he also identified himself as a Mason. Because Cate was a Mason, the brothers in area lodges had circulated a photo of him and it was through this photo that he was identified. Cate claimed not to know Mary and was offended when she called him “Harry”. They sent him to the Interpines Sanitarium in Goshen, NY, which is a funny coincidence, because he himself owned his own mental hospital back in Jersey.

Cate’s account of his wanderings while suffering from amnesia were printed in Dr Joe Shelby Riley’s book Conquering Units or The Mastery of Disease in 1921. In it (and in newspaper reports of the time), he claims he had no idea how he found himself in Kansas City and later in Indiana. He said “I had no recollection of my name, family, or friends, nor any of the old ties, and the strange part of it all is that I did not care. I was happy and as free as a bird.” More than once he stressed that because he had forgotten his family and past he was blissfully happy. Newspaper reports of his disappearance stressed that he had all that money on him, but he was quoted in Conquering Units that as a hobo he had $200 in fifties “pinned on the inside of my vest, so I think it was hardly probably my assailant robbed me.” 

Riley noted in Conquering Units that Cate had aphasia (the loss of ability to understand or express speech caused by brain damage). Though Cate was found in Poughkeepsie in August, he had trouble speaking and it wasn’t until October that enough of his memories came back in order that he could fully understand who he was. Riley wondered “what became of Dr. Cate, or Dr. Cate’s soul, during those six months, from April to October, 1903? Such a question might be answered by the psychologists theologists, but it is doubtful.”

But was Cate suffering from a mental illness, perhaps brought on by a trigger, or was he simply using his knowledge of psychiatry to escape his problems? He “was known to have certain peculiarities” per the NY Post of April 29th, 1903 and might have been having financial problems when he suddenly lost a great deal of cash and went AWOL for six months. His in-laws could not be bothered to help find him. 

And in 1905, he did it again.

Dr. Cate had signed a death certificate for Carrie Brouwer, the wife of Dr. Frank R. Brouwer, a doctor in his mid-thirties of Toms River, NJ, who had died after complaining of headaches and severe indigestion. Cate ascertained that she had suffered from Bright’s disease (an antiquated term for kidney disease). Her family suspected foul play and her life insurance company began to investigate. As the investigation moved forward, it was thought that Dr. Brower asked Dr. Cate to falsify the death certificate to cover his alleged crime as Brouwer was accused of poisoning her. Before he could appear in court to testify, on December 9th, 1905, Dr. Cate went missing once more. 

He resurfaced on December 26th, wandering into a police station in Springfield, MA, again in an amnesiac state. The papers said he had become confused in Albany and had been travelling from city to city since then hoping to jog his memory. Why did he wait until the 26th to try to see if the police could help him? He recognized a photo of himself but when questioned about the Brouwer case or anything else, he was mum or answered with “I don’t know.” The New York Sun reported that he gave the police the name “George Avery” because “someone called him by it on the street.” Luckily, “H.H. Cate” was written in or stitched inside his jacket. Had he not taken his coat off for almost a month? Was he lying, or was he truly temporarily insane? His new brother-in-law, Mr. Shinn went to Springfield and shepherded him to the same asylum he was committed to in 1903 in Goshen to recover. After a while he recovered his memory and did give testimony in the case, defending Brouwer who was acquitted in 1906. 

Frank Brouwer remarried in 1910 to a woman with the maiden name of Shinn, the same as Henry Cate’s second wife, Rachel (though a relation could not be determined, it can be presumed they were related). Perhaps Brouwer was innocent as the court determined and Miss Shinn was enamoured enough with him that she also fully believed that he hadn’t poisoned his previous wife.

Henry Cate went on to buy an asylum in New Mexico and moved with his family out there for a little while, but returned to NJ where he died in 1931. He is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Lakewood, NJ. His first wife Tasmania Canfield who was from a Newburg, NY family was born either in Australia or “at sea”. Perhaps her parents were missionaries or merchants. She died before 1900. Their son Carleton Cate died young in 1913. Cate and his second wife Rachel Shinn’s daughter Doris L. Cate married Arthur Riedel and had three children. Rachel Shinn Cate died in 1950, and Doris Cate Riedel in 2009.


Dr. Henry Hamilton Cate was born January 1859 in either New Hampshire or Massachusetts to Dr. Hamilton H. Cate (1825–1898) and Mary Delicia Plant (1829–1866).

He married at least twice. First on 28 Apr 1888 in Newburgh, NY he married Tasmania Canfield (born c.1855 either in Australia or at sea) who died sometime between 1895 and 1900 and second, sometime after 1900 he married Rachel Shinn (1876–1950).

With Tasmania (or “Tassie”) he had at least one child, Carleton H. Cate born June 1889 (died 27 Aug 1913 presumably with no children or wife) and with Rachel he had a daughter Doris L. Cate (6 Jan 1916–1 Oct 2009, who married Arthur Riedel and had three children).

Dr. H.H. Cate died in 1931 and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Lakewood, NJ.