Morbid curiosity

The Museum of Talking Boards presents a history and extensive collection of these essential spiritualist tools, with their origins in the speedy reception of information from the ‘other side’: ‘The problem with table turning was that it took far too long to spell out messages. Sitters became bored when the novelty of a rocking table wore off and the chore of interpreting knocks began. Planchette writing was often difficult or impossible to read. It was a challenge just keeping the instrument centered on the paper long enough to get a decipherable message. Consequently, many mediums dispensed with the spiritual apparatuses altogether, preferring to transmit from the spirit world mentally in an altered state of consciousness called “trance.”‘

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Some enterprising spiritualists started to adapt the original pencil-holding planchette, designed for automatic writing, for use with a board bearing the letters of the alphabet. Before long, the modern Ouija board was born (and patented in 1890). It also named itself: ‘”I remarked that we had not yet settled upon a name, and as the board had helped us in other ways, we would ask it to propose one. It spelled out O-U-I-J-A. When I asked the meaning of the word it said ‘Good Luck.’ Miss Peters there upon drew upon her neck a chain which had at the end a locket, on it a figure of a woman and at the top the word ‘Ouija’. We asked her if she had thought of the name, and she said she had not. We then adopted the word.’

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Amazingly, Hasbro still sells a Glow in the Dark Ouija Board (‘How it works has been a mystery for over 30 years!’), the modern plastic iteration of a product that has been in their line-up (originally as the Parker Brothers’ William Fuld Talking Board) for many decades. ‘Ouija’ is a Hasbro trademark, alongside Transformers and My Little Pony. As one might expect, the Amazon comments are a hotbed of talking points and handy tips, concise (‘I believe that houses can become haunted through the use of using the Ouija. If you dont want to run the risk of that, just dont use it in ur house! Use it in some other building where there will be litle destractions and you can concentrate.’), cautionary (‘This board is an absolute evil. My cousin asked on a stormy day to the Ouija board if something bad would happen. The board responded “This could very well be.” The kitchen then set fire (and no one was in there.) The Ouija boards are evil and must be destroyed.’) and confused (‘I think it is ridiculous that some supernatural being would want to hang out in a peice of cardboard for all eternity.’).

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Vaguely related, Just who on earth was HP Lovecraft / staying morbid, the Rolls-Royce Phantom Hearse. See also Hearse.com, with its extensive photo albums of classic hearses, including this 1941 Cadillac Hearse, a proto-art car.

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