Toy or device for speaking to the dead? Fun way to spend a slumber party or the deciding factor for what you should do with your life? The Ouija board is many things to many people, but one thing we do know is that for those that like a little mystery in their lives, the Parker Brothers Ouija board has remained on store shelves, and sold quite well, ever since the game manufacturer acquired the rights in the sixties.
In New York, min-nineteenth century, communicating with the dead was big business. Mediums – those people who claimed they could converse with the after-life – were big hits at chic parties across the city. In addition to letting the spirits speak though them, mediums also claimed the spirits could write messages on paper through them.
These mystics would hold a “planchette” (“little plank” in French), which was a heart-shaped board with a pencil attached in the center. The medium held this over a piece of paper and the spirit would “move” it to write a message. Unfortunately, the spirit didn’t always have the best handwriting, and nothing is more disappointing then an illegible message from the dead.
Three Americans – E.C. Reiche, Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard – developed a “talking board” that came with it’s own planchette. It was printed with the alphabet, numbers one through ten, and words ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ It is said that Kennard called the board “Ouija” after an Egyptian word for good luck, but rumor also said that the board itself suggested the word.
In 1892, Kennard’s ex-foreman, William Fuld, took the company over, named it the Ouija Novelty Company, and began producing the board in high volume numbers. Fuld came up with his own version of the Ouija’s genesis – that he had invented the idea himself, and that the word Ouija was actually an amalgam of the French “oui” and the German “ja” (which, incidentally, is the correct way to pronounce the name.)
There were other talking boards on the market at the time (for instance, Milton Bradley’s Genii) but Fuld’s was definitely the most popular. In a strange twist of fate, Fuld was killed in 1927 from a fall from a factory roof in his native Baltimore. Some said it was an accident, and some said it was suicide. (Didn’t anybody ask the Ouiji board?) Fuld’s children took over the company, and in 1966, they were bought out by Parker Brothers.
Today, the board looks almost the same as it did when it first came out, although now it’s made of folding cardboard instead of wood, and the planchette glides on velvet tabs instead of wooden pegs. It still has the alphabet and the numbers in two crescent rows, the words “yes” and “no” at the corners, and “goodbye” at the bottom.
Atmosphere and mindset are crucial to play. Don’t play it alone. Don’t play it while angry. Play at night, since there’s less psychic static when it’s dark out. Let just one person ask the questions – you don’t want to get the spirits confused while they’re navigating Ouija games. Candlelight helps encourage conversation. It’s best to have two players work the board, with it either on their knees or on a table. Once you warm up the planchette by moving it around, let it rest, and ask a question out loud. If you’re lucky, the spirit in the room will answer the question by moving the planchette around the board to spell out the answer.
Either that or the players minute muscle movements move the planchette. Or some sneaky player moves the planchette to the answer they want to see. It’s never 100% clear – which is what gives the Ouija board its simultaneous coolness and creepiness. It remains an enigma – a game that you’re never certain you’re in control of. As such, it has been a staple of slumber parties and any other place people gather in the dark, intent on summoning the spirits.