Friday, May 28, 2010

Ouija Boards: 120 years of spirited conversation

Even though Google didn't host a Doodle to celebrate it, we want to wish a happy 120th birthday to the Ouija talking board. While not the first talking/spirit/oracle/mystery/witch board, the Ouija is the most famous of the parlor games used for talking to "the other side." Created by the Kennard Novelty Company, the board became a sensation and commercial success under the leadership of William Fuld.

Consisting of a simple planchette and board with letters, numbers, and the words "Yes/No" and "Goodbye," the Ouija became a popular form of entertainment in the homes of many, not unlike Monopoly - as shown in the 1920s-1930s "William Fuld Dark Ouija Board" above and in this 1919 William Fuld Ouija display (Photos courtesy The boards even showed up in staring roles in movies and television.

Due to "Ouija-stitions" about the rituals of use, and the urban legends of the board, the game has developed a reputation for "opening doors" and for being a "gateway." But it really wasn't until a scene in 1978's The Exorcist that the board started to pick up a negative reputation that persists in paranormal popular culture today (see: Paranormal Activity).

Certainly, within most paranormal investigative circles, the Ouija is verboten. However, one must question whether the board is really all that different than other investigative tools for communication used in ghost hunting. As talking board historian, and good friend to this site, Bob Murch has pointed out, many of the call/response, yes/no questions investigators direct to blinking flashlights, Ghost Radar, K-II meters, etc. are the same suggested by the Ouija.

All the same, the spooky associations of the Ouija have helped the board survive to this day as slumber parties and dinner parties both continue to break out the board, turn off the lights and play with the taboo game (not to be confused with the game of Taboo, which, like the Ouija, is also manufactured by Hasbro). The basic board has even evolved beyond a cardboard platform and plastic planchette, and lives on in high-tech with a multitude of talking board iPhone apps.

For a detailed history of this fascinating and divisive game, visit Murch's Ouija site to get the complete story. And if you're feeling brave enough tonight and want to celebrate, head over to your local Toys "R" Us, pick up this glow-in-the-dark board for $23 (sold in the Family board game section), turn the lights down low and begin talking to the talking board. But don't blame us if it starts to talk back.


Murch said...

Aaron, you knew I'd love this! Nice job :)