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Ouija does it…

Three talking boards await clearing by Doc Saul Ravencraft.

As I give tours to visitors at the Museum of the Weird I tell them about my role in making sure that everything our owner, Steve, brings to the Museum is safe for display to the public. We have young people and drinking people who come in and we don’t want anything that will be spiritually challenging or that might follow you home.

Recently, Steve walks in with these three talking boards that I think he bought from an estate sale. If you are alive, you know that talking boards (Ouija is treated as a trademarked brand name by Parker Brothers) have a reputation for ghostly activity and demonic possession that would make for a good horror film. Though, it usually makes for a bad horror film; the 2014 film Ouija only hit 7% on Rotten Tomatoes. If you are dead, you might find these corridors of communication to be pretty interesting. (I’m not sure what our readership is from beyond.)

Are talking boards dangerous? Are they invitations to dark spirits? Are they a telephone to relatives on the other side? Are they a party game that is more hoax than hex?

May 1, 1920 cover featuring Ouija board art by Norman Rockwell

Talking boards haven’t always had this terrible reputation. When they were first made commercial by William Fuld in 1890 spiritualism was in its heyday. People didn’t have an Xbox to gather around so they found other ways to entertain themselves. A séance made for a fun evening, whether you were a true believer or not. (It still does.) It was a common enough part of Americana that Norman Rockwell chose it for the May 1, 1920 cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

To get a feel for all of this, I highly recommend looking through the on-line Museum of Talking Board’s gallery. There are some beautiful and quirky versions of the talking board.

The darker reputation of the Ouija board is a more recent phenomenon. It’s not hard to find terrifying tales by people whose game turned into something supernatural. Religious and skeptical groups cry out against them, though for opposite reasons. Even so, the boards remain popular, with the classic boards selling more. Beautiful, artistic versions of the board are widely produced.

Of course, you don’t need to buy a fancy board to make a connection. You can make your own talking board with a piece of paper, Scrabble® tiles or any number of methods. For homemade methods it’s common to use an overturned glass. There are also games, such as the more recent Charlie Charlie, that look to connect with nothing more than a piece of paper and a couple of pencils. (Some of the Charlie Charlie videos are pretty funny.)

On my end, I used my own methods to clear these talking boards of any previous spiritual presence they might contain. The Ouija Queen board went to another collector and the other two came into my own. Will they be tools for amusement or will they open gateways into terror? Time will tell. Until then, I leave you with this brief TV ad by Parker Brothers.

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