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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Marion Couthouy Smith (1853–1931)

The Composite Ghost

THEY were placed on exhibition, in a long, imposing row,

All who’d borne the name of Spriggins for three centuries or so;

From old Amram, who came over in the Pilgrim Fathers’ track,

To the late lamented Jane, for whom the family still wore black.

They stood upon a hardwood shelf, in rich and proud array,

Not disposed, I beg to state, in any grim, offensive way.

They were not a row of mummies, standing terrible and tall,

Nor a grisly stack of coffins, piled up high along the wall;

You never came across a skull, nor stumbled on a bone,

Nor a human frame in lattice-work, left rattling there alone;

Your nerves would never suffer there from sudden shocks or “turns”—

There was nothing but a score or two of classic little urns,

Which held their sacred contents, sealed in elegant reserve,

Like a ghastly kind of jam, or supernatural preserve.

You never, never would suspect that in those graceful rows

The entire Spriggins ancestry could peacefully repose.

’Tis a plan that’s most convenient, thus within a little space,

To have your relatives condensed, and keep them in a vase;

For if you care to travel, why, wherever you may go,

You can simply take your family vault along with you, you know.

You can have the whole collection sent by Peterson’s express,

To be a genteel solace in bereavement and distress.

Besides, it is the prettiest end a man could wish himself—

To be gathered to his fathers in an urn upon a shelf.


There rested all the Spriggins tribe, each in his little urn,

On which the names and dates were carved, as each had died in turn;

And Spriggins, père, was proud of them, and often went to weep

Beside the sacred shelf on which he one day hoped to sleep.

One fatal afternoon it chanced that Spriggins’s youngest son,

Whose un-Christian age was seven, and whose Christian name was John, Obtained the key to that small room, and found that sacred store

Of the ashes of his fathers, which he ne’er had seen before.

This Johnny was a clever boy, much given to research;

His very nose turned up, with interrogatory perch;

His head—excuse the slang—was very level, you’ll surmise,

But ’twas level where his bump of veneration ought to rise.

He knew they were his relatives, within those vases packed,

But he didn’t care a button for that interesting fact;

All he wanted was to reach those curious urns and take them down.

(Alas! the shelf was several feet above his little crown.)

There came a sudden avalanche, and flat upon the floor

He lay, sprinkled with the ashes of a century or more!

A portion of his grandpa ran in torrents down his neck,

And ’round him all his great-great-aunts were lying by the peck.

He had Pilgrim Fathers in his shoes, all trickling ’round his toes;

He had grandmas in his hair, and he had cousins in his nose;

And, worst of all, a fragment of the late lamented Jane

Had lodged beneath his eyelid, and was causing dreadful pain!

But John had lots of courage, and he didn’t stop to cry,

Not even with the ashes of his sister in his eye;

He only gasped, and quickly rose, and ruefully surveyed

The ruin and confusion that his luckless fall had made.

He could sweep up all the ashes, but things never could be fixed,

For the worthy house of Spriggins was inextricably mixed!

Such stirring up would stagger e’en the very stoutest brain;

Why, you couldn’t tell old Amram from the late lamented Jane.

The scions of this honored line, all by that little loon,

Might just as well have been stirred up, like pudding, with a spoon.

’Twas very sad; but Johnny, yielding not to thoughts of gloom,

Brought up a chair to stand on, and a dustpan and a broom,

And soon that little room was very, very cleanly swept,

And urns and ashes all put back, just where they had been kept.

You never, never would suspect what that one day had cost,

And that in that act each Spriggins’s identity was lost!


That night, alas! Pa Spriggins, in a solemn frame of mind,

Betook himself to that small room, as oft he felt inclined,

And he shut the door, and sat him down, those urns to contemplate,

While appropriate reflections chased each other through his pate;

For he loved to pensively recount the treasures of the past,

And wondered constantly how long the family would last.

The place was dark and gloomy—he was shut up there alone,

When suddenly—his hair stood up!—he heard a hollow groan!

The cover of the largest urn rose up a little way,

A mist came forth, which altered to a figure dim and gray.

It rose up from the ashes, like the phenix known of old,

But of such an awful bird as this the ancients never told.

It bore a distant likeness to the figure of a man,

But picture such a nondescript I know I never can.

It had a gray old head upon the shoulders of a child;

One eye was small and wicked, and the other large and wild.

Its hands, its feet, its teeth, its ears, I solemnly declare,

You couldn’t pick out two of them that matched to make a pair!

One foot was slim and dainty, and the other huge and flat,

And it had a woman’s wig on underneath a man’s cocked hat;

A waistcoat like George Washington’s, a blazer and a train,

That Spriggins knew had once belonged to his departed Jane!

He sank upon his bended knees, with terror quite unmanned;

It stood upon its one large foot, and waved its biggest hand,

And spake: “Unhappy man,” it said, “for this have we been burned?

For this have we been kept here long, so carefully inurned?

Oh, see, upon this sacred shelf what dire confusion reigns!

Wretch! what have you been doing with your ancestors’ remains?

You listen to your father’s voice, but thanks, I fear, to you,

It is your uncle Solomon whose mouth it’s speaking through.

Oh, tell me who or what I am, and how long I’ve been dead;

And tell me if I’ve got my own or some one else’s head;

I don’t belong to any special period at all.

Am I my Aunt Kiziah, or am I your brother Paul?

Oh, Spriggins—Ebenezer J.!—Oh, wretch! Oh, fool! Oh, rash!

How could you mix your ashes in one vast, ancestral hash?”

Thus ending, with a mingled wail of misery and rage,

That awful vision ceased to speak, and vanished from the stage,

While ghostly groanings issued from the various urns around,

But poor old Spriggins heard no more—he swooned upon the ground.


And now these mingled embers ’neath memorial marbles lie,

And Spriggins and his family will be buried when they die.