Gates, founder of the Gates Flying Circus, was once among the most famous barnstorming aviators in the country. Learning to fly two years earlier, Gates toured the country alone in 1911 performing aerial acrobatics in his own pusher biplane. With the addition of fellow aviator-daredevils, the act grew into a circus featuring stunt flying and wing-walkers. Sensing that the rise of commercial air travel would lessen public interest in the attraction, Gates organized an aircraft company in 1928 that designed and built training biplanes for private fliers. The veteran aviator quickly sold his interests in the company and, following a series of business reversals, opened a museum in New York City at Fifty-second Street and Broadway where "starving artists" exhibited their work.
In chronic pain from past injuries and depressed over a bleak future, the 42 year old was with his wife in their sixth floor apartment at 220 West Twenty-fourth Street on November 24, 1932, when he announced, "I think I'll jump out of the window." To placate him, she suggested that he get something to eat and drink. After drinking a glass of warm milk, Gates dashed it to the floor, threw open the window, and with his wife attempting to restrain him, jumped to his death. Four days later, Gates' former flying comrades scattered his ashes over the Holmes Airport, Queens, where he had been the first pilot to land a plane.