Ouija Board

With America entering ‘The Great War’ (WW One) in April 1917 and then by early 1918 and again late 1918 – many Americans dying due to fighting overseas or due to the Spanish Flu pandemic. Besides the loss of countless individuals, most were in their 20s to age 40 (military and flu victims). Left behind were many parents, children, and spouses asking ‘Why?’

By 1920, after the war’s end and the major flu cases over, many of those remaining wanted answers as to what ‘the afterlife’ was for their relative, taken so soon. So a large interest arose in ‘spiritualism’ – a look into the afterlife.

This new interest in the afterlife was enhanced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (writer of ‘Sherlock Holmes’) and Sir Oliver Lodge (a physicist who worked using radio waves). Both lost sons in the war – Doyle’s son in 1918 to the flu and Lodge’s son hit by a shell fragment. Doyle also lost his brother to the flu in 1919. The men, well-known, lectured in America about psychic experiences, including visiting with mediums to speak to their sons.

Harry Houdini (the famous escape artist), with his deep knowledge of magic tricks, was a natural skeptic of spiritualism, which he had studied for years. Houdini tried to expose those fraudulent mediums scamming the public.

Yet the public’s interest in knowing about their deceased relatives turned to the Ouija Board – (also called a talking board or spirit board)type of do-it-yourself séance kit. Talking boards were made commercially by Elijah Bond in July 1890. William Fuld took over production of the boards in 1893 and renamed them ‘Ouija’. However, with Americans losing relatives due to the war and flu, a large surge of using the Ouija board occurred between 1917 and 1922.

Yet, with this big interest in using an Ouija board, many medical people and even ordinary people were calling those who used the Ouija board and believing everything as ‘insane’ or a ‘nut crop’. Houdini, too, weighed in, calling the Ouija board “the first step towards insanity.”

The heightened interest in spiritualism in the U.S. continued throughout the 1920s and well into the 1930s, but dropped off a little with the coming of World War II in 1941.

But interest continued during the following decades. In 1967, the year after Parker Brothers bought the game from the Fuld Company, 2 million boards were sold, outselling Monopoly; that same year saw more American troops in Vietnam, the counter-culture Summer of Love in San Francisco, and race riots in Newark, Detroit, Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Your ancestors of those eras may have well used an Ouija board.

Photos: Vintage Ouija board, 1920 Rockwell painting and the planchette held with fingers.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Spanish Flu

World War One in the Newspapers


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