The beginnings of the modern Ouija Board can be traced back to the year 1848, the same year that the spiritualist movement began to take form. In 1847, John Fox and his wife Margaret along with their daughters, Kate and Margaret moved into a small house in a little town in upstate New York called Hydesville.
The house had been rumored to be haunted, and it wasn’t long before the rumors started to play out, and the sisters began to hear strange rapping sounds in the house. The sounds continued for some time until one day, Kate decided to try a little experiment with whoever or whatever it was that was producing the sounds. She challenged the unseen force to reproduce the number of times she snapped her fingers. Without fail, each time that Kate snapped her fingers, an equal number of rapping sounds were echoed back to her. Soon afterward a system of communication was established between Kate and the unknown force, whereby the spirit would rap twice to signify ‘yes’ in response to a question, or would not rap at all to signify the answer ‘no.’
Through this newly established system of communication, the sisters began asking questions to try to determine the source of the rapping sounds. They soon learned that they were communicating with the spirit of a dead peddler who had been murdered in the house five years earlier by a previous tenant, and that his body was buried in the cellar of the house.
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Beginnings of the Spiritualist Movement
News of the sister’s spirit communication began to travel throughout the community, and soon the phenomenon was being witnessed by neighbors and local press. Word traveled further and it wasn’t long before the sisters became somewhat famous for their mediumship skills, and began accepting invitations to demonstrate public seances. Many people were witness to these demonstrations and the Fox sisters began to acquire a rather large following, which soon led way to what we know today as the spiritualist movement. Spiritualism is the belief that spirits and the dead can and do communicate with the living.
The movement continued to grow and spread, and by the 1870's, it was estimated that there were eight million spiritualists in the United States alone. The movement became mainly popular with the middle and upper class, and was especially popular amongst women.
Formal spirit communications required the presence of a trained medium who would receive information from the spirit world and then communicate it to those in attendance. As the movement continued to gain popularity, it saw the development of new systems and tools of communication. These communication tools meant that séance participants no longer required a trained medium to interpret messages. People were now able to receive and interpret messages on their own by utilizing these various forms of communication tools. It took some time, however, and the development of some rather complicated and cumbersome inventions in this area, before they developed what we know today as the Ouija board.
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Some of the earlier developments included automatic writing, whereby a person would go into a trance state and begin writing out messages that would come to them from the spirit world. Often times the messages would come out as scribbles or jibberish that were difficult to decipher, and this turned out to be an unreliable and inconsistent form of communication.
Another version of automatic writing was developed by the French. They designed a planchette which looks similar to the planchette used in today’s Ouija boards, however this planchette was designed with wheels beneath it and a small hole where a pencil would be inserted. The user would place their hands on the planchette, and wait for it to begin moving around and spelling out messages. This also turned out to be an unreliable method, and the attempts to create the perfect communication tool continued.
Many attempts were made to come up with new and better designs, but they all proved to be either too complicated or too cumbersome to use.
With so many failed attempts to create the perfect tool, inventors started looking at the more practical aspects of those past inventions and began to incorporate them into new and better ideas. One of those ideas was the alphabet board; a board with the letters of the alphabet printed on it. A medium or chosen person would point to the letters of the alphabet, and the spirit would produce a rapping sound each time the medium pointed to the correct letter.
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Ouija and The Exorcist
This earlier version of the talking board didn’t fully catch on, but it was an early influence of what we know today as the Ouija board.
The first Ouija board patent, No. 446,054 was filed on May 28, 1890 by Elijah H. Bond, and was granted on February 10, 1891. Bond later reassigned the patent to business men Charles W. Kennard and William H.A. Maupin, founders of the Kennard Novelty Company.
The company employed a young painter and varnisher by the name of William Fuld who would eventually file his own patent on the board. Fuld’s patent made improvements to the board’s planchette, and on July 19, 1892, Fuld was granted patent No. 479,266.
Fuld eventually took over the company, which later became known as the Ouija Novelty Company. Fuld's first talking board trademark, Oracle No. 37,806, was granted on February 18, 1902.
On February 24, 1927, Fuld died tragically after falling from the roof of his three story factory. On February 24, 1966, exactly thirty nine years after Fuld’s death, his estate sold the entire business to Parker Brothers. The following year, Ouija became the biggest selling board game. With sales estimated at two million, it even outsold Monopoly.
After reaching its peak in 1967, the Ouija board began to see a decline in sales. To make matters worse, the Ouija board began to take on a notorious reputation. On December 26, 1973, the movie The Exorcist was released. The movie was based on the true story of a boy who was given a Ouija board by his dying aunt. When using the board, he unknowingly opened a portal, allowing an entity to come through that reportedly took possession of his body.
In the movie version, it is a young girl that becomes possessed after playing with a Ouija board and communicating with an entity that called itself Captain Howdy. The evil entity takes possession of the girl’s body and soon the horrific scenes begin to play out. Viewers were horrified and many were left with the belief that if you use a Ouija board, you will become possessed by an evil demon. And so began the Ouija board’s notorious reputation as well as the urban mythology which still surrounds it today. To this day, people fear the Ouija board, yet it continues to sell and people continue to experiment with it.
My opinion is that the majority of stories surrounding the Ouija board are sensationalized urban myths, however, the Ouija board is a very powerful communication tool, and if misused it can indeed, invite unwanted entities.
It is my hope is that if you choose to experiment with the Ouija board, your experiences will be as positive and enlightening as mine have been.
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