Strange Times 84: Kidnapped & Adjudged Insane

Today brings a single story of alleged madness and nonconsensual dentistry in New Jersey. Remember to floss for…

March 25, 1921

  • After the Soviet-sponsored uprising in German industrial towns, including Hamburg, the Communists appear to be losing ground against the reactionaries.

  • In Rome, the head of the Soviet delegation has been challenged to a duel by two Fascists, who boxed his ears after he called them ill-bred. 

  • After attempting to attack a bartender who refused to give him cigarettes, former major league catcher John B. McLean is shot to death in Boston’s South End.

  • As promised by prosecutors, George Washington Knight has been sentenced to death by the electric chair, just 12 days after the murder of Edith Wilson.

  • The Weather: Fair today and Saturday; not much change in temperature; strong southwest winds and gales.

This is one of those amazing stories where every sentence contains utterly wild statements that simply make no sense at all. No telling what the “skin disease” actually was. My assumption was some kind of STI, but cursory googling suggests that even syphilis probably wouldn’t have been described as a skin disease at this time.

In any case, read this out loud, and savor every baffling detail, right up to the cameo by Henry “I Pulled 11,000 Teeth” Cotton. The past was scary, y’all.

TRENTON, N.J., March 24.—Ex-Assemblyman James A. Hendrickson of Red Bank began suit in the United States District Court today for $50,000 damages against his brother, Charles, and Drs. Edwin Field and Walter A. Rullman, all of Red Bank, whom he charged with having ruined his career as a lawyer by having him kidnapped and adjudged insane. The plaintiff, a graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School, and a son of the late Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Hendrickson, alleged that a skin disease was the primary cause of his mental trouble and that after doctors had failed to remedy it and he had been adjudged insane, he fled to Pennsylvania and there studied medical books until he succeeded in curing himself.

Ex-Attorney General Westcott, counsel for the plaintiff, told the jury that his client had contracted the disease at Princeton; that it led to a breach with his brother, and that finally the brother tied up the plaintiff and shipped him to the Adirondacks in a baggage car “like a piece of baggage.” The plaintiff made “such a fuss” he was brought back, his counsel said, but subsequently his brother enticed him into a taxicab, handcuffed him and shipped him to a sanitarium in Wernersville, N.J. Mr. Hendrickson “talked himself free,” said the lawyer, and his brother had induced the two physicians who are co-defendants to make “false affidavits” that the plaintiff was insane. He was sent to the New Jersey State Hospital for the Insane, his counsel said, but finally managed by bribery to get a letter to a Trenton lawyer, who had him produced on a writ of habeas corpus before Vice Chancellor Backes, who released him.

Charles Hendrickson then had his brother adjudged insane by a jury in the Common Pleas Court of Monmouth County, the lawyer continued, but the plaintiff had fled to Pennsylvania, took up photography to earn a living and began the study of medical books, “and finally struck upon the proper treatment, and today, gentlemen, he sits in this court room as sound physically and mentally as any one of you.”

Merritt Lane, former Vice Chancellor, of Jersey City, represented the defendants. In opening he charged that Mr. Hendrickson had been adjudged insane, and that there was no doubt about his having been a lunatic. He said that if the plaintiff had been cured of his skin disease and of his insanity it was due to the treatment by Dr. Henry Cotton of the New Jersey State Hospital, who had ordered that he have several teeth extracted. Dr. Cotton, according to Mr. Lane, diagnosed the case and said that the condition of his teeth was responsible for his state.