Ouija board marketer William Fuld fell to his death while supervising the construction of a Ouija board factory.
In 1994 a murder trial called R v Young was ordered to be retried after it was discovered that some members of the jury had held a Ouija séance to consult the murder victim about who had killed him (he instructed them to convict the defendant). The retrial resulted in another conviction, which we suppose could be taken as vindicating the séance. The order for a retrial depended on a curious legal point: the jurors consulted the spirit while they were off duty in a hotel overnight. If they had done so in the jury room the judge wouldn’t have had the power to intervene, because he isn’t allowed to enquire into their deliberations whilst on duty.
The ‘Elvis Séance’ website gives advice on how to contact Elvis via a Ouija Board, but cautions: ‘If you wish to repeat this experiment, please be considerate. Many people may wish to contact Elvis, and we are sure he is quite busy. Please treat this information the same as you would if he were alive, and you had his email address - with respect.’
Ouija boards were tremendously popular from the First World War until the early 1970s; at one time virtually every household in the US had one. Three million were sold in 1920 alone, and they were made by literally hundreds of companies. In 1972 they outsold Monopoly – but when The Exorcist depicted them as a tool of the devil, millions of boards were thrown out, and the fad ended abruptly.
The Ouija board's origin can be found in the planchettes sold as novelties in the 19th century, which produced so-called 'automatic writing'. These 'psychographs' made no claim to supernatural qualities – they were marketed as a parlour game, or at most as a medium for channelling the subconscious by means of 'nervous electricity'. In 1901, William Fuld started producing his own version, under the name Ouija. The origin of the word isn’t clear; it was claimed variously to be an Egyptian word for ‘good luck’ revealed by the board itself during a séance, or named after the Moroccan city of Oudja, or from the words ‘oui’ and ‘ja’ in French and German respectively. Fuld’s boards didn’t take off until 1917, when they were boosted by two things. Firstly, a woman named Pearl Curran published a popular series of books and poems which she claimed had been dictated to her by a spirit named Patience Worth, which proved very popular. More significant still was the Great War, which prompted an upsurge of interest in spiritualism, and also in ways of communicating with the living; people used them to try to contact soldiers at the front, whether alive or dead.
In 1994 a retrial was ordered after jurors in a murder trial consulted a Ouija board.
Pleasure, anger, grief, joy, vanity, common sense, curiosity, and wonder, all appear at the Ouija board, both in sitters and spectators.
The Ouija board had to be “proven” to work at the US Patent Office before its patent was granted in 1891.