The Death-bed Promise: 1911

Edvard Munch

By The Deathbed, Edvard Munch

The couple in the story below, Mr and Mrs Simon Fisher, had a fraught relationship, much of it over Mrs Fisher’s “friend,” the married Walter Carnes, and all of it conducted very publically in the newspaper. Charges of adultery and abuse were brought; divorce papers were filed; the adulteress and her affinity were arrested and imprisoned in the Workhouse; the Fisher children were sent to the County Home….

Then, unexpectedly, and after an illness of only ten days, Simon Fisher died on March 13, 1911.  The dying man made his wife promise that after he was gone she would not marry Walter Carnes, nor even see him again. Linnie promised.

Death-bed promises were a serious matter, having an almost sacred binding force.  They were not made lightly. That should have been the end of it.

But love—or obsession—never dies….







            The wrath of the spirit of the late Simon Fisher has been brought down upon the wife of Walter Carnes whose second husband was Fisher. Fisher secured a promise from his wife on his death-bed that she would never marry Carnes, whom he hated with a bitter hate; but just one month and three days after the death of Fisher the widow broke her promise and married Carnes. Since a month after the marriage the ghost of the late Mr. Fisher has haunted the little house on North Sixth Street in which Fisher and his wife lived but which is now occupied by Carnes and Fisher’s widow. Mrs. Carnes has worried until she is but a shadow of her former self and little strands of silver have appeared in her hair. Although only 40 years old, Mrs. Carnes looks 50.

Simon Fisher when alive was a non-believer—had no religion. He and his wife quarreled and lived unhappily. Fisher was much older than his wife which partly explained the strained relations. Mrs. Fisher became enamored of Carnes and the two became fast friends. Fisher took a decided dislike to the younger man. At one time he became so enraged that he purchased a revolver and started out to find Carnes to shoot him.


            One day Fisher became suddenly ill and rapidly failed. Worry over his family troubles and physical disability soon sapped away his life blood and he died. A few minutes before his death he called his wife to his bedside and extracted from her the promise that she would never marry Carnes and would have nothing more to do with him. The promise was given.

Mr. Fisher was buried wearing a black suit and a white shirt and collar.

Just one month and three days after the death of her husband Mrs. Fisher was married to Carnes—on Easter Sunday last. They lived happily for a month when one night they were awakened by strange noises, as though someone were walking through the rooms of the restaurant in which the Carnes lived at the time. Mrs. Carnes and her husband became so frightened that they arose and lighted up the dining room of their restaurant and spent the rest of the night there.

A few weeks later the restaurant (now the Imperial) was sold by Mrs. Carnes and they moved into a house on North Sixth Street in which Mrs. Carnes and her former husband lived. The strange noises followed them there.


            Ernest Middy, a son of Mrs. Carnes’ by her first husband, Christ Middy, was lying on a couch in a downstairs room about two weeks ago when he was awakened by someone gently touching him on the shoulder. He awoke and was startled to see Simon Fisher standing by the couch. Before Middy could speak the shadowy form walked across the room to a door and entered the bedroom which was formerly used by Fisher. Middy, in an interview Tuesday, said that Fisher wore the same clothes he wore when buried. Middy declares that the vision was not an hallucination as he does not believe in spirits.

“I was born with a veil,” said Middy. It is said that if the veil is kept that the child may see and talk with spirits. Middy however does not attach any importance to this.

Middy told the whole story to an Age reporter and is stout in his claim of its absolute veracity in every particular.

Other members of the family have heard strange noises in the house. One of Fisher’s own children says that she heard sounds as though someone were walking through the house. Others have heard dresser drawers in an upstairs room rattle and doors have opened and closed. Investigation into the cause of these has never revealed anything.


            Mrs. Carnes has been followed around the house for hours by the spirit. She hears the footsteps but when glancing around she is unable to see anything. She will say but little about the strange occurrences but is worrying herself sick. Ever since the first strange noise was heard she has been ill and is rapidly losing flesh.

Mr. and Mrs. Carnes are now spending the summer in a camp to get away from the noises and the spirit’s strange actions. The family fears that Mrs. Carnes may worry herself into a critical illness.

Mrs. Carnes was married three times. Her first husband was Christ Middy. By this marriage one son was born, Ernest, who with his wife lived with Mrs. Carnes. Her second husband was Fisher. They had five children all of whom are at home and all of whom have heard the noises. The third husband is Walter Carnes.

Coshocton [OH] Daily Age 25 July 1911: p. 1

One might think that the apparition of her late husband was simply a projection of Linnie’s guilty conscience—except that there were so many other witnesses….

In an article headed DEATHBED REQUEST VIOLATED; GHOSTS MAKE THINGS LIVELY,  it was said that all five of the children were “showing the strain….A grown son and daughter each declare that on separate occasions they saw visions of Fisher. So vividly did he appear before one of them, and so penetrating the stern look in his eyes, that the child shrank back in horror and seemed to suffer a prolonged shock.”

Warren [PA] Evening Mirror 27 July 1911: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: You may read the entire lurid, but riveting story in The Face in the Window. It is, Mrs Daffodil regrets to say, like watching a train-wreck.


5 thoughts on “The Death-bed Promise: 1911

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      “Sheesh,” as you put it, indeed. It is surprising, knowing (from the newspaper reports) how strong-willed Mrs Fisher was, that she did not tell him, in her usual colourful language, that she’d promise no such thing. Mrs Daffodil can give two vintage examples of what might have happened had she done so.
      A Ghost Breaks Up a Wedding
      (Birmingham (ala.) Cor. Globe-Democrat]
      The ghost of a dead husband recently broke up a wedding in a small town in the interior of this State.
      A year ago, it appears, Mr. B. died, leaving a young and handsome widow. The married life of Mr. and Mrs. B. had been unhappy, the jealousy of the former adding no little to their troubles. The principal object of Mr. B.’s jealousy, was a young man who had been very attentive to Mrs. B. before her marriage. On his death-bed the jealous husband called his wife to his side and asked her to promise him that she would not marry a second time. She begged him with tears not to exact this promise, and, when he would not yield, she positively refused to make it. At this the dying husband became very angry , and raising himself on an elbow, he shook a thin hand in the face of his weeping wife and said: “Go on and marry that man if you want to, but the ghost of your dead and unloved husband will stand by your side at the marriage altar to remind you of your unkindness to him.”
      A moment later the man sank back on his pillow and died without another word. His widow for a time seemed greatly shocked by his dying threat, but at the end of her year of mourning cards were issued announcing that she would soon marry the sweetheart of her youth. A number of friend were assembled at the home of the bride to witness the ceremony, and the threat of the dead husband was forgotten by all save the widow, who had refused to promise that she would not marry again. Just as the couple joined hands before the minister ,the bride-to-be suddenly gave a loud shriek of terror and sank to the floor in a faint.
      It was some time before she regained consciousness, and then she begged that the ceremony be deferred until the next day, which was done. Again the couple stood at the altar, and again the bride fell in a dead faint as the minister began to read the ceremony which was to make them man and wife. This time the wedding was postponed for a week, and then, for the third time, the bride fainted. The marriage has been declared off, and to her intimate friends the lady has confided her secret. Every time she stood at the altar she saw at her side the ghostly form of her dead husband. Mrs. B. now declares she will not marry again.
      Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 14 December 1890: p. 23

      Spook Figures in Divorce
      Macon, Ga., March 2. A ghost figured as co-respondent in divorce proceedings here when George W. Mann told the court that his young wife was haunted by the shade of her former husband, to whom she had made a promise that after his death she would never marry. She became despondent from remorse, Mann said, and he consented to a separation and then applied for divorce. He got a decree. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 3 March 1912: p. 7A

      Guilt is a powerful emotion. Mrs Daffodil is grateful that she is so constituted as to be immune to it.


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