ra, immediately following the Civil War, produced a generation exposed to hardships and death. Most families had suffered the loss of at least one of their members during the war. Driven perhaps by a morbid curiosity and the need to communicate with loved ones taken from them so suddenly, interest in Spiritualism began to grow. Mediums were consulted for messages from departed family members during a seance. Devices were invented to help communicate with the spirits of loved ones, but many had already been in existence for hundreds of years.
By 1853, the "automatic writing planchette" was being used in France. Planchette means "little plank" in French and was a small wooden board supported by pegs or wheels with a pencil inserted through a hole in the board. This was placed on a piece of paper and then by lightly touching the planchette, it would move and write out messages onto the paper.
Other devices included a "dial plate," "Spiritoscopes," ideomotor, or something as simple as an "ask the glass" session. A wine glass was turned upside down on a table where alphabet-printed cards had been spread out. Participants lightly touched the glass, then questions were asked out loud to the "spirits" and the glass would stop at the lettered cards on the table spelling out an answer.
The early 1900s Ouija Board on exhibit at the Fenton History Center.
In the 1880s, mediums began making boards, hand-painted with the alphabet, numbers and/or symbols and using them in their appointments with clients. They were known as "communication boards," "talking boards" or "spirit boards." They were used in combination with a tear or heart-shaped planchette as a "pointer." Realizing a growing popularity for these devices, businessman E.J. Bond was given a U.S. patent for his board in 1891. It went into mass production with the trademark name "Ouija." He said it was for the word yes in French, "oui," and German, "ja." There are numerous stories about who invented the original Ouija board and eventually a man named William Fuld owned the rights to it in 1892. The Fuld family continued producing the Ouija boards after William's mysterious death in 1927 but sold the rights to Parker Brothers in 1966. At that time, Parker Brothers were headquartered in Salem, Mass., (famous for the Salem Witch Trials) and coined the tagline, "It's just a game, isn't it?"
The Fenton History Center has a William Fuld Ouija board manufactured between 1903-06 in its collection and on exhibit. The Fenton's Museum Store has new Ouija boards for sale to add to your Halloween season.