Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Ouija Files: Murch Meets The Blue Ghost in Chicago


I saw a ghost this past weekend. Seriously, it’s true. After all the paranormal conferences I’ve attended and the many ghost hunts I’ve been on, I finally came face to face with a ghost. Not just any ghost mind you, but one that’s been haunting American living rooms for over seven decades. Nope, I hadn’t been drinking, I wasn’t doing drugs, and no I didn’t have a mental break down. I came face to face with a ghost, and I have photos and a witness to prove it, but I’ll get to all that in a bit.

Earlier this year I’d been invited to speak at Ursula Bielski’s Chicago Ghost Conference. I first met Ursula many moons ago at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. I love Ursula. She’s obsessed with the history and ghost lore of Chicago and I can relate to that. I get being obsessed with something. I’d never been to Chicago before so I jumped at the chance.

Most people don’t know it, but Chicago is arguably the Talking Board Capital of the World. Officially branded Ouija boards were made there for over a year starting in 1891 and J.M. Simmons’ Ouija boards were made in record numbers beginning in 1919. He made so many Ouija boards over the years that he was dubbed the Ouija King of Chicago. Then there are all the other talking board companies that exploded in the 40’s. For a time, the talking board business and Chicago went together like peas and carrots.

Look, I love visiting new cities. I get to meet new people and make new friends. There’s a Ouija collectors group on Facebook a bunch of us belong to. I was pumped because I was finally going to meet Beth, an artist who sells her custom made boards under Tall Tale Remains on Facebook. Beth lives in Chicago and knows the city like the back of her hand. After I gave my lecture on Saturday, Beth picked me up offered to be my tour guide for the day. She thought I’d like to see the sites and visit some of Chicago’s finest. Of course I was game.

I came with a few addresses and grave sites I wanted to checkout while I was in the Windy City. I figured we could start with J.M. Simmons' grave and Beth thought Graceland Cemetery would be our best bet. This is where Chicago’s elite are buried and it looked to me like each family tried to outdo their neighbors. Each monument was bigger and grander than the last and the statues and mausoleums were among the finest I’ve ever seen.

We got out of Beth’s car bouncing with enthusiasm and headed into Graceland Cemetery’s office. Our hopes were quickly dashed when the woman there obviously had no interest in helping anyone. Simmons wasn’t buried there. We walked out shaking our heads. Beth offered to take a spin around this amazing place and we took off. Not far into the trip, Beth stopped and said this was where a lot of the really cool monuments started. Damn she was right. The people buried here were crazy wealthy.

As Beth was telling me about some of the more influential families of Chicago something was nagging at me. I felt like I was being watched. You know that weird feeling that doesn’t make any sense but you just know you’re being stared at? I didn’t want to look like a freak to my new friend so I let my eyes drift to the right and as I turned my head I froze. My blood ran cold and I could feel it drain out of my head. I was being stared at and as my eyes locked with theirs all I could say was “NO WAY!?”

Standing stoically against a black marble backdrop and overlooking fields of the dead stood a ten foot tall figure who’s face was a dead ringer's for the one that donned the boxes of William Fuld’s and later Parker Brothers’ Ouija and Mystifying Oracles from 1941-1972. Could it really be that I just came face to face with the inspiration of what Hubert Fuld called affectionately the Blue Ghost? How was this possible? I let out a laugh, threw open Beth’s car door and walked up to one of Chicago’s most famous funerary masterpieces – “Eternal Silence.”

The monument was created by Lorado Taft and erected in 1909 to pay tribute to Dexter Graves, who was one of the very first settlers of Chicago. The plaque on the back of the statue reads “brought the first colony to Chicago, consisting of 13 families, arriving here July 15, 1831 from Ashtabula, Ohio, on the schooner Telegraph.”

Now, Beth, as any good Chicagoan, knew all about the statue, its ties to Chicago, and also thought it looked real familiar. It’s been 73 years since the Blue Ghost made its debute on Ouija and Mystifying Oracle boxes. Both William Andrew Fuld, the artist behind it, and his siblings have all passed away so there’s no one left to ask whether Eternal Silence was indeed the inspiration for the Blue Ghost. I suppose we could just ask Ouija…But check it out for yourself. What do you think?

I know all too well that we look for patterns and familiar links in the unfamiliar. So maybe I just wanted this to be so bad, I was making it all up in my head. As fast as my shaking hands could attach the pics to a text, I sent them to three friends who are also directors of the Talking Board Historical Society. No words just photos. Their responses in order were Gene Orlando “OMG! It’s her! Where are you?” Brandon Hodge “Boy THAT looks familiar!” Finally Andrew Vespia, “OMG!! Looks like the blue ghost!!” Ok, so it wasn’t just me? We were definitely onto something.

Looking at them side-by-side you can see the two aren’t twins. Most obviously one’s an oxidized green color while the other is colored a light blue. The most striking difference is the Blue Ghost is raising her left arm while her hand seems to form the sign of a benediction. Yet, the same arm on the statue remains hidden by its robe. IF this statue was the inspiration behind the Blue Ghost, it was a brilliant move by William Andrew Fuld - taking a popular symbol of Death named Eternal Silence, and giving it a voice. What was once silenced through death could now speak through the Ouija board.

Standing with Beth and posing for photos in front of Eternal Silence I kept thinking, what are the chances? For the umpteenth time in my Ouija journey in order for this to play out the way it did everything had to line up perfectly. I was only in Chicago because Ursula invited me to speak at her conference. Beth just happened to have the time off to be my city guide, and of all the places she could take me to, she chose to take me to the one cemetery in Chicago where a statue of Death was actually waiting for me?

An old Chicago legend says that if you stare into the eyes of Eternal Silence you’ll see a premonition of your own death. Yet, when I looked into the eyes of that familiar hooded figure I simply saw a ghost with a story to tell. For whatever the reason, I was just lucky enough to have been there to listen to it.

Thank you Ursula for inviting me to Chicago. The conference was amazing and I can’t wait to do more fun stuff with you. Thank you Beth for taking me on yet another amazing and unlikely Ouija adventure. It was awesome meeting you in person and sharing a small piece of Chicago’s Ouija past. I can’t wait to come back with the rest of the Talking Board Historical Society!

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