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
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
- 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