Friday, August 23, 2013

Supernatural Friday: Lore and History of the "Talking Board"

Lore of the Ouija:

Never play alone!
Never let the spirits count down through the numbers or go through the alphabet as they can get out of the board this way.
If the planchette goes to the four corners of the board it means that you have contacted an evil spirit.
If the planchette falls from a Ouija board, a spirit will get loose.
If the planchette repeatedly makes a figure eight, it means that an evil spirit is in control of the board.
If you should get an evil spirit, quickly turn the planchette upside down and use it that way.
The board must be "closed" properly or evil spirits will remain behind to haunt the operator.
Never use the Ouija when you are ill or in a weakened condition since this may make you vulnerable to possession.
The spirit of the Ouija board creates "wins" for the user, causing him to become more and more dependent on the board. Addiction follows. This is called "progressive entrapment."
Evil spirits contacted through the Ouija board will try to win your confidence with false flattery and lies.
Always be respectful and never upset the spirits.
Never use the Ouija in a graveyard or place where a terrible death has occurred or you will bring forth malevolent entities.
Witchboards are so named because witches use them to summon demons.
The very first Ouija boards were made from the wood of coffins. A coffin nail in the center of the planchette window served as the pointer.
Sometimes an evil spirit can permanently "inhabit" a board. When this happens, no other spirits will be able to use it.
When using a glass as a message indicator, you must always cleanse it first by holding it over a burning candle.
Ouija boards that are disposed of improperly, come back to haunt the owner.
A Ouija Board will scream if you try to burn it. People who hear the scream have less than thirty-six hours to live. There is only one proper way to dispose of it: break the board into seven pieces, sprinkle it with Holy Water then bury it.
If you must use a Ouija board, make your own. Arrange the letters and numbers, into a circle so whatever is trapped within that circle can't escape.
If you place a pure silver coin on the board, no evil spirits will be able to come through.
NEVER leave the planchette on the board if you aren't using it.
Lecherous spirits from the Ouija board will sometimes ask young women to do rather . . . ah, odd things. Ignore them and always remember that your Ouija partner (i.e. boyfriend) has nothing to do with this.
Three things never to ask a Ouija board:
Never ask about God.
Never ask when you are going to die.
Never ask where the gold is buried.

History of the Board:
Ouija boards appeared to have been around for forever it seems, but it really hasn’t.

In the year 1848, something unusual happened in a Hydesville, New York cabin. Two sisters, Kate and Margaret Fox, contacted the spirit of a dead peddler, became instant celebrities, and sparked a national obsession that spread all across the United States and Europe. It was the birth of modern Spiritualism.

Spiritualist churches sprang up everywhere and persons with the special gift or "pipeline" to the "other side" were in great demand. These unique individuals, designated "mediums" because they acted as intermediaries between spirits and humans, invented a variety of interesting ways to communicate with the spirit world. Table turning (tilting or tipping) was one of these. The medium and attending sitters would rest their fingers lightly on a table and wait for spiritual contact. Soon, the table would tilt and move, and knock on the floor to letters called from the alphabet. Entire messages from the spirits were spelled out in this way.

A less noisy technique used a small basket with a pencil attached to one end. The medium simply had to touch the basket, establish contact, and the spirit would take over, writing the message from the Great Beyond. This pencil basket evolved into the heart-shaped planchette, a more sophisticated tool with two rotating casters underneath and a pencil at the tip, forming the third leg. Spiritualists immediately discovered that in addition to writing messages, the planchette could perform as a pointer, setting the stage for the talking boards to come. It was said by some writers, that the inventor of the planchette was a well-known French medium named M. Planchette. Not likely, as there has never been any information discovered in this individual. The French word "planchette" translates to English as "little plank."

Problem with table turning, it took far too long to spell out messages. Planchette writing was often a challenge just keeping the instrument centered on the paper long enough to get a decipherable message. Eventually, most mediums dispensed with the spiritual apparatuses altogether and mentally in an altered state of consciousness with the spirit world to something called "trance." Others eliminated the planchette but kept the pencil, finding the hand a less troublesome writing instrument. Others though felt need for equipment to communicate with ghosts. These resourceful individuals built weird alphanumeric gadgets and odd-looking table contraptions with moving needles and letter wheels. These early machines suffered from over engineering if not lack of imagination. Called dial plate instruments or psychographs, a few of these devices appeared in the marketplace under various names and incarnations. 

American and European toy companies peddled the planchette. It became popular. Dial plate devices, although more sophisticated, were largely ignored. Planchettes were easier to make and market inexpensively as novelties. But both took a back seat in 1886 when an exciting new "talking board" sensation hit the newsstands. It was even mentioned in the March 28, 1886 Sunday supplement of the New York Tribune, the story quickly spread across the country.

This "new" message board was simple to make. It required absolutely no understanding, skill, or mediumistic training to do—or so people were led to understand. The message indicator "moved by itself" from letter to letter to spell out a message, This amazed people. Was it new, or not, though? At about the same time, one of the nation's largest toy makers, W. S. Reed Toy Company of Leominster Massachusetts, put out a device strikingly similar to the "new planchette." Dubbed the "witch board," its description went like this: "Upon the four corners of the board are respectively "Yes," "No," "Good-by" and "Good-day," while the alphabet occupies the centre of the board. A miniature standard rests upon four legs and stands upon the "witch board." Those place their hands on it, and then the spirits begin their work. Should an answer be "Yes" or "No," and communications are spelled out by the diminutive table resting over such letters to spell out the message. 

Reed's short-lived "witch board" might have been completely forgotten had it not been for an amusing incident. Charles S. Dresser, Reed's treasurer, sent President Grover Cleveland one as a wedding gift with the wish that "it may be of service."  And no, the president did not use it on matters of state!

Reed wouldn't trademark another similar item, the Espirito, until 1891. But others leapt on the ‘board” bandwagon. The first patent for "improvements," filed on May 28, 1890 and granted on February 10, 1891, lists Elijah J. Bond as the inventor and the assignees as Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin of Baltimore, Maryland. It is wondered if Bond or his Baltimore cronies knew about Reed's earlier "witch board,” but they were the first to heavily promote the board as a novelty. 

Charles Kennard stated that he named the new board Ouija (pronounced wE-ja) after a session with Miss Peters, Elijah Bond's sister-in-law: "I remarked that we had not yet settled upon a name, and as the board had helped us in other ways, we would ask it to propose one. It spelled out O-U-I-J-A. When I asked the meaning of the word it said 'Good Luck.' Miss Peters there upon drew upon her neck a chain which had at the end a locket, on it a figure of a woman and at the top the word 'Ouija'. We asked her if she had thought of the name, and she said she had not. We then adopted the word. There were present Mr. Bond, his wife, his son, Miss Peters and myself." Kennard and Bond, doing business as Kennard Novelty Company, wasted no time advertising in local periodicals, calling it even the “wonder of the Nineteenth Century.” 

Charles Kennard left the company after fourteen months to found Northwestern Toy Company in Chicago, Illinois. His ex-financial partners, headed by powerful Baltimore capitalist Washington Bowie, who was also manager, secretary, and treasurer of Kennard Novelty, changed the name of the firm to Ouija Novelty Company. This didn't concern Kennard who made another board as his flagship product, the Volo board—a Ouija replica. Bowie immediately filed suit for patent infringement forcing the end of the Volo along with an apology. Unrepentant, Charles Kennard continued in real estate and other business ventures and produced one more talking board, the Igili, in 1897. 

Kennard claimed that he was the sole inventor, having in 1886 (the year of the talking board craze) put together a crude board, using a cake board and a table with four legs and a pointer, marking in pencil the alphabet and numerals. Next to his office was a cabinetmaker by the name of E.C. Reiche who, at Kennard's request, made several copies of the board. Asked to make them in numbers for market, Reiche refused, complaining of a heavy workload. After shopping the idea around Baltimore and finding no takers, Kennard met Elijah Bond who made several improvements including the semi-circular alphabet pattern and the addition of felt cushions on the indicator legs, and had those improvements patented. Bond then joined with Kennard as manufacturers under the Kennard Novelty Company name. 

Washington Bowie disputed Kennard on several counts. He said that the inventor of the Ouija was not Charles Kennard but Mr. E. C. Reiche, of Chestertown, Maryland. He further stated that Kennard Novelty paid Reiche in stock for "using his invention without compensation" and that this happened, not once but twice. E. C. Reiche's son, W. Mack Reiche, backed Washington Bowie and said that Kennard may have named the Ouija, he did not invent it. W. Mack Reiche was adamant that the Ouija "came into existence through the brains and hands of father alone." 

Whatever the story, Washington Bowie remained the powerhouse behind the Ouija Novelty Company making most of the corporate decisions and installing his son, Washington Bowie Jr., as manager of the Chicago factory. Early on, he took 20 year old William Fuld under his wing and taught him everything he could about the business. Fuld rose quickly to position of foreman and became one of the original company stockholders. In 1897, Washington Bowie leased the rights to manufacture the Ouija board to William and his brother Isaac. With that single stroke of fate, William and Isaac Fuld embarked successfully on their new venture and manufactured Ouija boards in record numbers. This business partnership didn’t last. Ouija Novelty’s contract with the Fulds was for three years only. At the end of this period, William formed his own company—ended the partnership. Isaac’s rights to produce the Ouija board ended. A legal battle ensued. The acrimony created a bitter family feud that was to last for generations. Isaac worked from his home workshop and produced and sold Ouija facsimiles, called Oriole talking boards, along with pool and smoking tables. Ouija Novelty collected revenues on the Ouija name from Willam Fuld and then in 1919 relinquished the remaining rights. William sold millions of Ouija boards, toys, and other games and kept a job as a US customs inspector. Later in life he became a member of Baltimore's General Assembly.

For twenty-six years William Fuld ran the company through good times and bad. He was a Presbyterian, didn't believe that it was a medium of communication with departed spirits, but at the same time still thought that the Ouija a reliable advisor in matters of business and personal life. He explained a type of magnetism or some kind of psychological phenomenon controlled the hands and led to the right answers. He offered personal anecdotes to illustrate. The board told him to "prepare for big business" and he did, building a new factory to support huge demands. When a large shipment consigned to St. Paul, Minnesota got lost, and a search by railroad officials failed to find it, Fuld asked the Ouija board and it directed him to Ohio, right where it had been misdirected. 

Fuld said. "We didn't know what to name it, so put the question up to the board and it spelled out O-U-I-J-A. We hadn't any idea what it meant and scratched a long time before we found any clue, until discovered the word a close approximation of an Egyptian word meaning good luck." Although he had "inventor" printed on the back of every board, he didn’t claim to be the originator, but credited E. C. Reiche. He just beat him to the patent office.
William Fuld climbed to the roof of his Harford Street factory in Baltimore to supervise the replacement of a flagpole, but a support post that he held on to, gave way and he fell backwards to his death. This happened in February 1927. Following his death, William's children took over and marketed many interesting Ouija versions of their own, including the rare and marvelous Art Deco Electric Mystifying Oracle. In 1966, they retired and sold the business to Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers produced an accurate Fuld reproduction and briefly even made a Deluxe Wooden Edition Ouija. They still own the trademarks and patents to this day. 

In early 1999, Parker Brothers stopped manufacturing the classic Fuld Ouija board and switched to a smaller less detailed glow in the dark version. No longer is the faux bird's eye maple lithograph and also gone is the name William Fuld.
Today, as in the past, there are companies that produce interesting variants of the talking board. It may be accurate to say that there is a renaissance afoot. Hasbro, who currently owns Parker Brothers, has introduced two new limited edition versions of the Ouija board within the past few years. Other manufacturers have also joined in with imaginatively styled, contemporary talking boards. Online auction sites allow artists, who formerly would not have had the opportunity, to display and sell their handcrafted creations to a worldwide audience. Talking board enthusiasts are creating websites, sponsoring public shows and events, and connecting with other collectors in an entirely new way. At this period in time, the Wonderful Talking Board has never been more popular. 

Parker Brothers motto: "It's only a game—isn't it?"

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