In the movie The Exorcist, a young girl became possessed after playing with a Ouija Board, a plastic or board marked with various letters, numbers and answers.
When the board was asked various questions, a spirit would cause a pointer held by the player to move on its own to point out the answer. In the late 1960s, people become obsessed with the boards as they sold more units than the venerable game Monopoly.
The roots of the Ouija board can be traced to the mid-19th century where a Spiritualist craze was sweeping throughout New York City as well as Europe. The concept of Spiritualism allowed that people in the world of the living could communicate with those in the world of the dead. Those wanting an audience with a dearly departed family member of friend would seeks out a Spiritualist to act as a medium between the two world. The “medium” would speak for the ghostly spirit, providing guidance, advise and sometimes warnings. This often presented a problem for some less than authentic mediums as it was difficult to make up answers to specific question posed by their clients. One solution was to allow the spirits to communicate in a somewhat less direct manner. A device called the “planchette” was developed as just such as communications tool.
The planchette consisted of a wooden board which held a pencil. The board, under the hands of the medium, would move around “writing” the messages passed along by the spirit. Unfortunately, because of messy handwriting, a variation of the planchette was developed called the Talking Board. One of the first (if not the first) Talking Boards was developed by three men, Charles Kennard, Elijah Bond and E.C. Reiche. It consisted of a wooden board with the alphabet, the numbers zero through nine and the words “yes” and “no” labeled on it. A second item, a smaller rectangular piece of wooden that sat atop wooden pegs was moved around the board from letter to letter and number to number and to the words yes and no. A player (or players) would rest both hands on the smaller board and ask questions of a spirit. The spirit would presumably move the pegged board to letters or numbers to spell out an answer or to the yes or no in order to in the negative or the affirmative. The communications device was called “Ouija. Kennard explained that the term Ouija is an Egyptian expression for good luck and he said he was told the name by the board itself.
In 1892, William Fuld (Kennard’s former supervisor) and his brother Isaac took ownership of the Ouija board and formed an entity called the Ouija Novelty Company. Through this company they marketed the boards across the United States and they became the biggest sellers of a Talking Board in the world (there were other version of Talking Boards including the “Genii” board made by Milton Bradley). After a long run of success and profitability from sales of the Ouija board, William Fuld may have earned the wrath of the spirit world as he died after taking a mysterious fall from the roof of a building in Baltimore in 1927. His children took over the company and sold it to Parker Brothers forty years later.
Over the years, the boards have maintained their air of mystery which was only heightened by the release of the Exorcist in 1973. In many households mothers forbid their children from bringing the “game” into the house and many fear that the game truly is a portal into “the world beyond.” Nevertheless, the game remains a favorite of those daring souls looking for answers from beyond.