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The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board Tool of the devil, harmless family game—or fascinating glimpse into the non-conscious mind? The idea was that two or more people would sit around the board, place their finger tips on the planchette, pose a question, and watch, dumbfounded, as History answers planchette moved from letter to letter, spelling out the answers seemingly of its own accord.
The biggest difference is in the materials; the board is now usually cardboard, rather than wood, and the planchette is plastic. Ouija historian Robert Murch has been researching the story of the board since ; when he started his research, he says, no one really knew anything about its origins, which struck him as odd: Aided by the stories about the celebrity sisters and other spiritualists in the new national press, spiritualism reached millions of adherents at its peak in the second half of the 19th century.
Spiritualism worked for Americans: Women died in childbirth; children died of disease; and men died in war. The Ouija Board was marketed as both mystical oracle and as family entertainment, fun with an element of other-worldly excitement. Robert History answers This patent file from the United States Patent Office shows that the office required the board to be tested before a patent would be granted.
Calling out the alphabet and waiting for a knock at the right letter, for example, was deeply boring. People were desperate for methods of communication that would be quicker—and while several entrepreneurs realized that, it was the Kennard Novelty Company that really nailed it.
The article went far and wide, but it was Charles Kennard of Baltimore, Maryland who acted on it.
Inhe pulled together a group of four other investors—including Elijah Bond, a local attorney, and Col. Washington Bowie, a surveyor—to start the Kennard Novelty Company to exclusively make and market these new talking boards. That ambiguity and mystery was part of a more or less conscious marketing effort.
And byKennard and Bond were out, owing to some internal pressures and the old adage about money changing everything.
Inwith the blessing of Col. Bowie, the majority shareholder and one of only two remaining original investors, he licensed the exclusive rights to make the board.
It was marketed as both mystical oracle and as family entertainment, fun with an element of other-worldly excitement. The Ouija board appealed to people from across a wide spectrum of ages, professions, and education—mostly, Murch claims, because the Ouija board offered a fun way for people to believe in something.
During the Great Depression, the Fuld Company opened new factories to meet demand for the boards; over five months ina single New York department store sold 50, of them.
Strange Ouija tales also made frequent, titillating appearances in American newspapers. Innational wire services reported that would-be crime solvers were turning to their Ouija boards for clues in the mysterious murder of a New York City gambler, Joseph Burton Elwell, much to the frustration of the police.
After the Civil War, one man decided there was money to be made in contacting the dead. So he invented a popular, occult board game that lives on today.
Ouija boards even offered literary inspiration: Curran earned significant success, Hutchings less, but neither of them achieved the heights that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill did: Merrill, for his part, publicly implied that the Ouija board acted more as a magnifier for his own poetic thoughts, rather than as hotline to the spirits.
That is, until Christian religious groups still remain wary of the board, citing scripture denouncing communication with spirits through mediums—Catholic. Even within the paranormal community, Ouija boards enjoyed a dodgy reputation—Murch says that when he first began speaking at paranormal conventions, he was told to leave his antique boards at home because they scared people too much.
Ouija boards were spooky rather than spiritual, with a distinct frisson of danger. Inrumors that Universal was in talks to make a film based on the game abounded, although Hasbro refused to comment on that or anything else for this story.
Ouija boards are not, scientists say, powered by spirits or even demons. Ouija boards work on a principle known to those studying the mind for more than years: Almost immediately, other researchers saw applications of the ideometer effect in the popular spiritualist pastimes.
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