A few weeks ago, a good friend sent me a desperate text message in the middle of the afternoon: “I feel like I live on the set of Hee Haw!” Bless her. She’s in the Deep South trying to teach some of the stupidest kids in the world. Sadly, she’s surrounded by equally dim adults, so teaching is like running a race in quicksand. I read the text with a mixture of both sorrow and amusement. I felt terrible for her, but the hilarity of the dead-pan text won out. I nearly wet myself with fits of hysterical laughter.
Yesterday was my turn to visit the cornfield and wait for the cartoon jackass to pop up. My personal Hee Haw was via the Halloween antique group on Facebook. Stupidity usually doesn’t crop up in this group. Halloween antique collectors are a rather eclectic, if a tad eccentric, group. They search high and low for pre-1960 Halloween items. Collectors will plop down hundreds (and sometimes thousands) for paper mâché jack-o-lanterns, Beistle nut cups and die cuts, tin parade lanterns, and one hundred-ten-year-old Halloween themed scraps of Dresden paper. Fortune-telling games and Halloween auguries are premium collectibles. One lucky member found a rare 1919 William Fuld Ouija board in very good condition, complete with intact and legible printing on the back. During our outpouring of cheers, awe, and congratulations came a boopsonic volley of derp-ignorance from some superstitious rubes. As I said, most antique collectors are relatively sane and intelligent. There’s really no place for superstition when you buy and sell the cast-off items of those long dead.
And so commenced the usual superstitious bullshit that tries my patience:
“It’s evil! Demons will possess you!”
“It’s a portal to Hell!”
“I’ll never use one again. My BF and I were using one in the dark, and something grabbed my boobs. My BF swore his hands were on the board.”
“Bad things will happen.”
You know how it goes. Then a few Fundamentalists Christians™ started ranting about being “saved.” (Why are they in a Halloween antique group anyway?)
The general concept of the Ouija is over 1000 years old. Gaining popularity during the Spiritualist Movement of the Victorian Era, the mysterious talking boards were mass-produced and sold as a parlor game. William Fuld, a manufacturing genius and somewhat ruthless businessman, founded the Ouija Novelty Company in 1892. His version of the talking board, the now patented “Ouija,” outsold all others. Fuld simply ran competitors out of business by the massive production of his board in his Baltimore factory and suing infringers. The Fuld family owned and manufactured the game until 1966. Then the company sold the game to Parker Brothers. After Hasbro absorbed the Parker Brothers company, the rights transferred and the game is still manufactured today.
Popularity ebbed and flowed through the years. Though on the wane by 1900, Ouijas became popular again after WWI, during the Great Depression, and after WWII. By mid-century, Ouijas were everywhere. They popped up on various TV shows and movies. The game provided hours of giggles at teenage slumber parties. Suburban wives passed idle afternoons divining household allowances over martinis. Though the poor talking board usually wound up in the attic with the Parcheesi game after the kids came along, it was never there long. Nothing livened up a dull cocktail party like the Ouija!
A brief resurgence came with the counterculture occult explosion of the late 60s- to early 70s. The board found its way into universities and psychology departments during the Human Potential Movement and parapsychology revival. Scientists studied the ideomotor effect and how human perception influences the operation of the board. No one opened a portal to Hell. People did not get possessed. No campus was haunted, at least until Greek row toked up.
Then came THE movie.
Yes, there were superstitions before The Exorcist, particularly among religious fundamentalists. Everything frivolous is damning to those joy-buzzkills. However, their yatterings were not that well known and dismissed as ignorance by the intelligent who rightly considered the source. However, after the movie’s popularity, these superstitions were mainstreamed with the media hype that followed the exorcism craze. Tabloids repeated “ouija-stitions”, as did occult magazines, comic books, paperback novels, and other consumer fodder. “Paranormal” fakers like Ed and Lorraine Warren (of The Conjuring franchise fame) made a cottage industry out of the ouija-stitions, adding their own imaginary ones. They cheerfully marketed their bilge water with ghostwritten books and added “Ouija evils” to their made-up “true” stories. Of course, their books flew out the stores and into the hands of gullible readers who repeated the crap and normalized it. Other movies casting the Ouija as a villain, like Witchboard, followed. Parker Brothers itself joined the feeding frenzy by promoting board with the eerie catchphrase, “It’s only a game. Isn’t it?,” playing up the danger element for more extensive sales. Over time, and with the coming of the “paranutter” shows like Ghost Hunters and the mainstreaming of religious fundamentalism, these silly superstitions became part of our contemporary folklore.
When I last looked, this FB meltdown finally cooled off after 12 hours. As you can see, reason is not something people want to hear. I really wanted to ask one woman if a h’ain’t grabbed her boobs in the dark, but didn’t because I would have gotten bounced. For all the dumpster fire that is FB, this group has been very useful. I’ve scored some good antiques through the listings.
Ok. Rant over.
Kudos to the lady who scored the board and jeers to the jerks who spoiled her good time. I hope this fantastic Fuld board makes her Halloween display a winner! And just a reality check to those who don’t know – a 1919 Ouija board is just a cool piece of wood. It’s a nice piece of history. A midcentury board like mine (above) is just a cool piece of chipboard and paper, with the coolest graphics on the box ever printed. Stop spreading false stories and superstitions. It makes you look stupid. You sound like a 13th-century peasant thinking the wind in the eaves is the banshee’s wail. It’s the 21st century, for crying out loud! Try to be halfway intelligent!
And remember, it’s only a game. Isn’t it?
For more Halloween fun check out the Museum of Talking Boards.