A brief history of spiritualism

In 1848 a strange phenomenon emerged in the small town of Hydesville, New York. Two sisters - Kate and Margaret Fox (and later Leah) - began communicating with the soul of a vagrant who had died a few years earlier. They soon became famous around the world. Spiritualism was born. Everyone wanted to contact the souls of the dearly departed. Spiritualist churches sprouted up and sensitive individuals called 'mediums' became channels through which it was possible to communicate with the 'other side'. Various methods were used to talk to the spirits: trance, turning tables and so forth. Spirit writing became popular and the planchette - a small wooden board on rollers - was invented. The planchette had a hole into which was inserted a pencil. The problem was that spinning tables took too long to respond and the writing obtained using a planchette was often illegible. Other methods were developed using 'scientific apparatus' to ensure that the experiments were above board: Léon Denizarth Hippolyte Rivail, better known as Allan Kardec, and founder of the French spiritualist movement, described two of these devices in his book on mediums (1861): the Girardin table and a dial used in telegraphy.
By 1880, in the United States, the planchette was an inexpensive gadget mass produced by game manufacturers. The dial was abandoned because it was too expensive to make. Three of these game-makers - Reiche, Bond and Kennard - created a design combining the planchette and the alphabet from the telegraph dial: they called the new design Ouija, supposedly from the ancient Egyptian word for 'luck'. The Kennard Novelty Company was the first to produce the board and planchette. Unfortuantely, Kennard was forced to sell his company to one of his employees, William Fuld. The company was renamed the Ouija Novelty Company, and later the William Fuld Company. The two Ouija boards on display in this section of the museum were the first to be produced by the new company (1892-1900). It is also worth noting that the word Ouija is sometimes pronounced 'wicha', prompting some people to call it the 'witchboard'.

  • Ouija boards: The first Ouija board was manufactured in the United States in 1892
    • Boards dating from 1890-1900-1950 (first and second Ouija boards produced by the William Fuld Company in 1892-1900. One of the last models (1950) is also in the museum. The company sold its rights to Parker Brothers in 1966.
      • Spiritualist table in oak (the only giant model of the oak spiritualist table manufactured for the Surnateum in the interwar years). While spiritualism targeted the masses in the United States, it was more of a high society pursuit in Europe. This giant board is the only one of its kind.
      • Specially rigged pedestal table (manufactured in France around 1980).
      • Planchette (rare UK spiritualist planchette, ca. 1900)
      • Spirit slates (extremely rare spirit slates, Owen (USA); production started in the 1930s. Mysterious messages appeared on the slates during spiritualist manifestations).
      • A spirit tambourine and game can also be found in the museum's collection.