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The Ouija and Talking Boards
In the mid-19th century, the world was bitten by the spiritualist bug. Spiritualists believed it was an undeniable scientific fact that there was life after death and that a person's religious beliefs shouldn't be burdened by rules and structure. This notion was particularly strong in parts of the United States that were still trying to shake their Puritan foundations. Spiritualist churches quickly sprouted up and mystics and mediums began hosting sťances to help people communicate with the dead. Many methods were used to communicate with the dearly departed. The means that is most famous today is the talking board, and the best known talking board is the Ouija.
A talking board is a very simple item involving a lap sized board with the alphabet; the numbers 0-9; and the words yes, no, and good bye. Upon this board you place a planchette, a small, heart shaped, table-like pointer. Two or more people place the board, ideally between their laps, and rest their fingers gently on the planchette. They ask the spirits a question and concentrate. If the spirits are willing, the planchette will move across the board to indicate the answer to their question.
Talking boards were immensely popular for a number of reasons. They were very inexpensive to make or buy, were fun to use, and perhaps most importantly, they didn't require any mediumistic skills to operate or enjoy.
The talking board that would become the famous Ouija was first marketed in Baltimore, Maryland in the early 1890s by Charles W. Kennard, of the Kennard Novelty Company. Kennard gave the board the name Ouija, what he believed to be the Egyptian word for luck. It is not, but he claims the board told him it was during a session so the name stuck.
While the spirits did well in naming the board, they didn't help Kennard in his business dealings. His financial backers withdrew support for Kennard and placed his shop manager, William Fuld, in control. Fuld renamed the company the Ouija Novelty Company. Under Fuld's guidance Ouija boards and others named "Fuld's Talking Boards" were produced in record numbers. Despite numerous similar boards from other manufacturers Ouija boards have sold in the millions.
Part of this success was due to Fuld's salesmanship. Fuld reinvented the history of the boards. He began telling everyone that he invented the boards and the name Ouija came from the French and German words for yes: oui and ja. He would tell reporters that Ouija gave him all of his best and most successful ideas. Something that made an eager public clamor for boards.
In 1927, William Fuld died. Some say he died from a fall while supervising the replacement of a flagpole on the roof of his Baltimore factory. Others say he took is own life in a leap from the roof. No matter which version of the story you believe the results were the same. Sales of the Ouija board increased because of the dark controversy. Fuld would have been proud.
Between 1927 and 1966, Fuld's heirs ran the company and created many versions of the original board. Retiring in 1966, the company was sold to Parker Brothers, which continues to produce Ouija boards to this day. In 1999, Parker Brothers simplified the design of the board and made it glow-in-the-dark. No need to even turn on the lights or light a candle to see the spooky messages from the great beyond.
For more information on Ouija boards, please visit the Museum of Talking Boards. It's a wealth of information on talking boards in general and has images of boards, their history, even interactive boards that you can use to ask for supernatural advice!
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