With Halloween just around the corner (at last!), I thought our readers would enjoy a little something spooky to get in the spirit.. or perhaps to get in touch with the spirit.
Automatic writing, or psychography, as a means of communicating with the spirit world has been in use for almost a thousand years. However, its place in the collective consciousness would not be formed until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the infamous Ouija Board entered the scene in American spiritualist communities.
Following the Civil War, American spiritualists employed psychography and talking boards as an efficient means of contacting the dead. Though their existence was already quite well known by the 1880s, it was not until 1890 that Maryland businessman Elijah Bond created and named what we now recognize as the Ouija. William Fuld, an employee of Bond’s, and Charles Kenner took over production of the boards in 1901, coining the talking boards with their now notorious name.
Like many talking boards, Ouija is a flat board featuring the Latin alphabet, numbers 0-9, and the words “yes”, “no”, “hello”, and “goodbye.” Participants place their hands on a pointer, or planchette, and ask the board questions; the planchette, supposedly fueled by chatty spirits, moves to spell out answers.
You may be asking yourself, “what on earth does this have to do with archival records”? Rest assured, I am not here to convince you to converse with the dead via the use of a talking board or any other means. Rather, I’d like to show you a few records, all depicting Ouija, from my favorite collection here in NARA’s Cartographic Branch: Utility Patent Drawings in RG 241: Records of the Patent and Trade Mark Office, 1837-1978. I hope you enjoy, and have a very happy Halloween!
If you would like to enjoy more posts about patents, please browse through our related posts here. Be sure to keep an eye out for an upcoming Christmas patent post, written by none other than Cartographic’s Amy Edwards.