What makes the Ouija so different and controversial is that it has a certain notoriety. Without this reputation it would be just another board game like Monopoly or Chinese Checkers. Speaking of games, someone once made the observation that Ouija was really Scrabble with attitude, and this may be true on more than one level. The Museum of Talking Boards would not be complete without a few interesting Ouija narratives. These are entertainment pieces and we do not necessarily expect you to take them as gospel. Notice how they reveal more about the people involved with the Ouija than the actual board itself. The Ouija board, while usually expected by popular culture to reflect the darker side of life, can also act to inspire and direct, as you will see. That said, we present the following accounts, some old, some new, all thought provoking and worthy of further investigation.
The Bradbury Building looms bizarrely on the corner of Third and Broadway in the city of Los Angeles. It is an architectural marvel and Hollywood filmmakers adore it, filming within its walls such Film Noir classics as DOA, Blade Runner, and Seven. There is something about this building—something weird—something foreboding. Legend has it that George Wyman consulted his dead brother using a Ouija board before building it for Louis Bradbury in 1893. An apprentice architect, Wyman had little real experience and lacked confidence in his own abilities. His brother didn't, apparently, and spelled out this message during a Ouija session: "Take Bradbury Building. It will make you famous." He did, and it did.
Mrs. John Howard Curran stunned the literary world during a twenty-four year period (1913-1937) when she channeled an entity named Patience Worth through the Ouija board and produced six novels, two thousand items of blank verse, and hundreds of pages of poetry. She wrote so much that she had her own magazine devoted to her, named appropriately enough, Patience Worth's Magazine. But when push came to shove, Pearl Curran denied that the Ouija board was responsible for her prolific output. Many of her admirers refused to believe this, and argued that Pearl had buckled under the pressures and criticisms from outsiders.
Author and adventurer Stewart Edward White and his wife Betty experienced a spiritual revelation while using a Ouija board for the first time at a party. Together they continued their exploration and Betty subsequently reached an altered cognitive state in which she claimed to communicate with entities named the "Invisibles." Through these communications, Betty relayed the entities' religious doctrines and special techniques to teach humans super-consciousness and higher awareness. Stewart wrote three books recording these experiences: The Betty Book, Across the Unknown, and The Unobstructed Universe. The books attracted many followers, inspiring him to write several more. Betty continued to speak to Stewart even after her death, through friend and psychic Ruth Finley.
Emily G. Hutchings, a friend of Pearl Curran, contacted the spirit of Mark Twain through her own Ouija board and wrote a novel ostensibly by him named Jap Heron. The literary community universally condemned the book as an invention and a poorly written one at that. Perhaps, as one disappointed reporter remarked, "Mark Twain left more than his body when he passed over to the other side."
The Wuachope children, Robert (9) and Virginia (13), wrote an Oz book under direction of a Ouija board. The year was 1920 and L. Frank Baum, the series original creator, was dead less than a year. Could this book have been his final literary effort from beyond the grave? Most Oz lovers doubt it. They agree that Invisible Inzi of Oz is not the best of the Oz books and that is putting it charitably. Some think that it may well be the worst.
English author Sax Rohmer, famous for his Fu Manchu novels and membership in such occult organizations as the Golden Dawn, credited the Ouija board with jumpstarting his writing career. He asked the board about how he could best make a living and the board replied: "C-H-I-N-A-M-A-N". This was enough to inspire a long and profitable career and it brought him fame, riches, and the freedom to travel the world. Had he consulted the board further, it might have warned him to stay away from the casinos. He lost most of his fortune in Monte Carlo.
The sleepy town of El Cerrito, California made the national news on March 7, 1920 with the headlines, WHOLE TOWN "OUIJA MAD". Horrified police arrested seven people "driven insane" after using a Ouija board. One girl, only fifteen and found naked explained it was because she could "communicate better with the spirits." In the following days, the madness spread to others in the town including one police officer who ripped off his clothes and ran hysterically into a local bank. Officials quickly held a town hall meeting and decided to bring in mental health professionals to examine the entire population of 1200. To prevent any future outbreak of "ouijamania," they made the rational decision to ban Ouija boards from the city limits.
The courts convicted Dorothea Turley and her daughter Mattie of murder, in a celebrated legal case during the 1930's, after Mattie killed her father with a shotgun. Fifteen year old Mattie described on the witness stand how the Ouija, used by her mother, directed her to commit the homicide. The judge and jury determined the murder had more to do with a life insurance policy and the mother's secret lover than the Ouija board, and sentenced Dorothea to prison and Mattie to reform school. The higher courts overturned Dorothea's sentence just three years after her imprisonment and set her free. Mattie stayed in reform school until the age of twenty-one.
The "Most Dysfunctional Marital Relationship" award went to the Hurds of Kansas City in 1935 after Herbert killed Nellie with four shots to the back. Seventy-seven year old Herbert told police that Nellie received messages from the Ouija board claiming that he was in a relationship with a neighbor woman and that he had given her fifteen thousand dollars. After a Ouija séance, Nellie would eye Herbert suspiciously and say loudly, 'Well, I've caught you in another lie!" Over a period of weeks, Nellie tortured her husband by wiring him to the bedposts and whipping him with a knotted rope. She burned him with a red-hot poker, stabbed a knife into his shins and forced a confession by holding a revolver to his head. Herbert got possession of the gun after Nellie carelessly left it on a bedside table. Seizing his chance, he sent Nellie to the Spirit World for good. Neighbors testified that the Hurds had been in a tumultuous relationship for years. The court ruled the slaying as justifiable homicide and that was the end of that.
A Cottage City, Maryland boy began displaying unusual symptoms after his family experimented with a Ouija board. Odd manifestations occurred in his presence: the shaking of his bed and the sudden movement of room furnishings from their usual positions. The Washington Post first reported the incident on August 10th, 1949. Several articles followed, each more sensational than the last. They told of the boy's tribulations, the failure of medical science to treat his maladies, and his cure by a Catholic priest. Except for a 1951 Fate Magazine follow up, the whole matter might have been a forgotten curiosity. It was not to be. In 1971, William Peter Blatty's heavily altered novel about the incident hit the bookstands. It quickly became a best seller and a movie blockbuster followed. Its name? The Exorcist.
Married poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were almost as famous for their turbulent personal lives as for their poetry. Despite Ted's failure to commit and Sylvia's chronic depression, they complemented each other in ways that only such artists can. They regularly held séances with a Ouija board and it provided poetic inspiration as well as the more mundane results of weekly football matches. To the question, "Shall we be famous?" the Ouija answered for Sylvia: "Fame will come. Fame especially for you. Fame cannot be avoided, and when it comes, you will have paid for it with your happiness, your husband and your life." The Ouija was eerily correct on all counts. After the couple separated, Sylvia committed suicide. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry posthumously.
While writing one day, poet Jane Roberts experienced a paranormal revelation when she "felt her consciousness leave her body." Flooded with new ideas, she and her husband experimented with a Ouija board and contacted an "energy essence personality entity" named Seth. The results were several popular books by Roberts and a few dictated by the entity Seth himself. Roberts is directly responsible for starting the "channeling" craze in 1972 with her book, Seth Speaks. The writings of Roberts and Seth are still popular among New Agers and there are many websites devoted to their works.
James Merrill, writer and poet, composed his epic The Changing Light of Sandover after long sessions on a homemade Ouija board with his friend David Jackson. Did his inspiration really come from the spirits, as some claim, or was the Ouija his personal instrument for creative expression?
Iris Maloney won 1.4 million dollars in the California lottery after picking the winning numbers through her Ouija board. "Hank isn't laughing at me anymore," chortled Iris, referring to her husband who had counseled her to throw the "damn thing" away. Waving a facsimile of the check in one hand and her Ouija board in the other, Iris posed for the obligatory photo session before a small group of photographers. "I don't know if I will continue to use the Ouija," Iris commented. "I'll probably hang it next to my needlepoint collection in our new home." Hank was still in the hospital recovering from the heart attack he suffered after hearing the news of his wife's success and was unavailable for comment.
At least two rock bands credit the Ouija board for their original sounding names. The band Cheap Trick visited a psychic's house and asked the board what they were having for dinner. The Ouija, perhaps a little hard of hearing or woozy from the smoke in the room, mistakenly thought the question was, "WHO is coming to dinner?" It spelled out, "C-H-E-A-P-T-R-I-C-K". A more famous tale is that of group Alice Cooper who allegedly conjured the spirit of a 17th century witch with the same name during a Ouija session. So impressed were they that they decided the name would be perfect for the band. All, that is, except for one stubborn hold out who thought the idea stupid. There are so many variations of these name legends that it is impossible to ascertain their truthfulness. Even the band members are confused on the matter.
Six United States Army soldiers went AWOL when a Ouija board warned them of a coming global cataclysm. Broken taillights on their Volkswagen van gave them away and police arrested them. The six, all with top security clearance, were headed west to live "like a survivalist group." An FBI investigation uncovered their Ouija board manifesto complete with accurate prophesies of the Gulf War and the earthquake in Iran. New York City's destruction by a gas leak and the second coming of Christ have yet to occur. The Army was understanding of the situation and gave the men honorable discharges but reduced them in rank and docked them a half month's pay. The group's leader currently tours and gives lectures on "self-sustaining" lifestyles.
Ten Airdrie, Alberta teenagers ran afoul of malevolent forces after a question and answer session with the Ouija board. Several became disoriented and struck the walls and at "something in the air." Someone called an ambulance and one girl went to a local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Theories about the incident ranged from "A lot of kids just got scared," to a case of "suspicious spiritual activity." Worried parents summoned a local Minister to perform a spiritual cleansing on the girl and the house where the incident occurred; everything has been back to normal since then. There is no word on the fate of the Ouija board.
Concerned English villagers held a Ouija séance to see if the board could provide any information about three local murders. Bludgeoned as they walked to school, were a mother, her daughter, and the family dog. A second daughter survived the attack but with serious injuries. Investigators counted the number of blows to the victims as sixteen. The Ouija board suggested that the police re-examine an area where they found a bag of clothes from the victims, and indeed, a hammer was lying there in plain sight. Villagers were understandably upset at the police for missing so vital a clue. Embarrassed officials later issued a report stating they could not link the hammer to the killings and denied the Ouija board figured in the discovery. The search continues for the real murder weapon.
An English court of appeals ordered a retrial after the discovery that jurors used a Ouija board while sequestered in a hotel room. The Ouija board told them to "vote guilty tomorrow," and they did, convicting the defendant of the murders of two people. Adding new meaning to "consulting the spirits," the jurors admitted to drinking excessively also and they were properly remorseful about it all. Although a majority rule is necessary for conviction, and only four people had used the Ouija board, their Lordships decided that they could not dismiss the entire matter as "merely a drunken game." The defendant was found guilty at his Ouija-free retrial.
Inmates in a California county jail spooked themselves into near hysteria after using a Ouija board fashioned from a Scrabble set. The prisoners, all hardened Latino gang members from southern California, believed that they were possessed by the devil and caused such a ruckus that officials had to call in a priest to perform an exorcism. An amazed official for the Santa Clara County jail system remarked on the ingenuity of the inmates: "On the back of a Scrabble board, they created the moon and the sun and the letters—all the components of a Ouija board," he said. The prisoners vowed never to dabble in such things again.
A Minco, Oklahoma grandmother knifed her son-in-law to death after a session with the Ouija board. Carol Sue Elvaker, 53, then packed her daughter and her two grandchildren into the car and drove toward Tulsa on Interstate 44. Along the way, she slammed into a road sign attempting to kill them all. Despite two broken ankles, she managed to vault a freeway median barrier, rip off her clothes, and run naked into the forest. Police arrested her and charged her with first-degree murder. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.