Sunday, September 28, 2014

More About the Mysterious Ouija Board

Earlier this year I posted a piece on the history of the Ouija, the talking board that's become the hackneyed demonic gateway for all kinds of cheap horror flicks. Well, while combing the Google archives, I stumbled across an early Ouija ad. This one comes from the October 1913 issue of Toys and Novelties magazine.

In Toys and Novelties the board was advertised under the name "Ouija the Egyptian Luck Board", a term that was a new to me. Apparently, to differentiate his oracle from its imitators and cater to period desires for the exotic, William Fuld  marketed his oracle under the names Egyptian Luck Board as well as Hindu Luck Board. Now, if you go to Wikipedia you'll find a bunch of inaccurate rot on when Fuld began marketing his board under its two new monikers. My favorite internet repository for misinformation points to 1919 as the date of creation both the Egyptian Luck Board and the Hindu (sometimes spelled Hindoo) Luck Board names. Of course I know better than to blindly accept anything Wiki tells me, so I went looking for actual, period records and found different story.

The Egyptian Luck Board name appears as early as 1891 in an American Stationary magazine piece touting the mysteriousness and accuracy of the oracle (right). From what I was able to find, "Ouija the Hindu Luck Board" came much later. The patent application for the Hindu moniker didn't come until 1920 as found in the 1921 Official Gazette of the United States Patent Board. Over time it seems both names disappeared, replaced by the generic term Ouija. The search did lead to some interesting findings, though. For example, the American Stationary clipping features an illustration of another mysterious, planchette-based oracle of the late 1800's, the Sturmberg Planchette was an automatic writing device, equipped with a pen to scribe messages from the great beyond. I bet those Victorian ghosts were appalled by their spectral handwriting!

Every time I delve into a subject like this, I make a new discovery that stimulates my writer's brain. This time around it was an ad from a 1894 issue of Clegg's International Directory of the World's Book Trade featuring the London shop of one Mr. James Burns. Burns purports to be a seller of "all the extant works on hypnotism, mesmerism, occultism, and all branches of psychic science." My mind's eye sees a dark little Southampton Row shop, cabinets and shelves crowded with books, antiques, and jars containing herbs and unguents from the far east and beyond. The smoke-stained walls are decorated with star charts and illustrations of the symbols and glyphs from the Book of the Dead and other rare and forbidden texts. You step inside, shutting the door against the cold, soot-bitter London wind and turn to find a smallish man with a waxed mustache and a pair of pince nez smiling at you from behind the counter.

"I had began to wonder whether you'd changed your mind," he says, a little smile crossing his round face. "I believe you have a problem you wish to discuss?"

You remove your hat and cross the room, following the shop's proprietor to a small sitting room at the back of the shop where he takes your coat and bids you make yourself comfortable in an armchair while he brews a cup of tea.

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