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May 18th 1944
(Copyright © Reprinted with permission from the Baltimore Sun)
Ouija Board Boom On? Yes Says Ouija Board
By James P. Connolly
A report that the ouija board is having a war boom was taken directly to headquarters today for confirmation — that is, to the ouija itself. The ouija said — well, yes.
Miss Bettie Crabbs, of a Charles Street book shop that has been featuring the ouija board on its comeback, and William A. Fuld, owner of the business that makes them, said the ouija is right — it always was.
The book shop was getting something like the ouija, a combination serving tray and gameboard, from out of town, but couldn't get enough of them. Then it learned (maybe from the ouija itself) that the one and only original is made right here at home. Such is fame.
One of Baltimore’s “Firsts”
The ouija board is one of Baltimore’s many “firsts.” It was invented or developed by Mr. Fuld’s father, the late William Fuld, a former customs inspector, who obtained patent and trade-mark rights on it in 1892 and made more than $1,000,000 on it in the few years following the World War I.
Possibly the ouija is on its second $1,000,000 now.
The present Mr. Fuld said “there has always been a normal demand for it, but nothing like the increase there is now.” Just what the normal or the increase is he woudln’t say. The ouija was also non-committal. It said — well, yes and no.
As Mr. Fuld analyzed it, the cause of ouija’s revival it twofold.
“We have done a lot of missionary work on it through the years.” he said “and of courge it is the times, also In times like these people take up things like the ouija to find out what their sons and husbands are doing on the other side.”
Mr. Fuld meant on the other side of the ocean. Millions of the ouija’s fans have tried to communicate through it with the other side of life — that is, with the spirit world — but Mr. Fuld’s faith in the board doesn’t go that far.
“We don’t put it out to be used in a serious way,” he said “It’s just an amusement, that’s all.”
Psychiatrists have said that anyone who thinks he can get the spirits on the ouija is “loony,” but if they are right, then millions of loons tried it after the World War I.
In a sense the ouija is a World War I baby. Although the basic idea was more than 100 years old then, it was in the post war period it was in the post-war period that the ouija hit the peak of its popularity with the public and made its first $1,000,000.
It was the same time that it hit the pit of its unpopularity with psychiatrists. The latter said some parents wouldn't have one in their house.
One doctor said he didn't believe the ouija developed insanity but that it discovered it (a service to psychiatry. It would seem if true) and thats several users of the board had been taken to the insane asylums.
In his annual report for 1920, during the post ouija craze, Dr. Marcus A. Curry, medical director of the New Jersey State Hospital for the Insane, said “people who seize on spiritism in its various forms are too often either those who are naturally of a high-strung nature or neurotic tendency or who have just passed through some great trouble which has deprived them of their normal resistance.”
Once Called “Spirit Board”
The conversion of the ouija to a spirit medium was something its inventor, the late Mr. Fuld, had not foreseen. Although the ouija is sometimes called “a spirit board” in the early stages of its development, Mr. Fuld said he didn’t hold with the spiritualists, he was a sound Presbyterian.
An inventor and “the son of a family of musicians and inventors,” as he said, he and his brother Isaac had been tinkering with “a spirit-board” since they were boys, mostly for their own amusement.
Two Legs And A Pencil
The French form consisted of a little table with two legs and a pencil. The fingers were placed effortlessly on the table, which moved around under their unconscious vibrations, the pencil sometimes writing words. The ouija board did well as and American improvement. It made things easier on the spirits.
His table has three legs (no pencil) and moves on a lapboard bearing the letters of the alphabet, the numerals 0-9 and the words “yes” and “no.”
Origin Of Name
This the table does its own spelling: the spirits do not have to write anything.
The name ouija was coined for the new board by combining the French oui and the German ja for yes, signifying that the ouija will give a yes — or no answer — sometimes a yes AND no answer to any question. It is the original yes and no man.
Now the question is: Did the ouija have any success at all before the First World War? The answer is — well, yes, and no.
In 1899, Mr. Fuld, who lived at 1306 North Central avenue, opened a little factory near his home and went into production.
Got Tip From Ouija
Twenty years later the ouija itself tipped him off to the fact that its heyday was at hand.
“The ouija told me to prepare for big business,” he said.
And although he was no believer in the psychic power of his own brainchild, acting on its advice, he built a new three-story daylight factory at Harford avenue and Federal street. The building was hardly up before business business boomed and ouija was telling him, “I told you so.”
In a few years, he said, he sold $1,000,000 ouijas which were talking their heads off all over the land — very often in court.
For, along with becoming a public pet, the ouija quickly became one of the champion litigants of all legal history.
It revealed secret marriages, started slander and divorce suits and became an alibi in a murder case in Arizona. A boy out there pleaded that it had told him “to shoot his daddy so his mother could have her freedom.”
It also worked on the Lindbergh kidnap case, the identity of France’s Unknown Soldier and wrote a book — or so a man who had a book said. The ouija never denied authorship in so many words.
Toy, Game, Or Ghost?
Locally, however, the most celebrated legal cases in which the ouija figured were suits to determine it was a toy, game or ghost and who held the patent and trade-mark rights on it.
In 1920, Mr. Fulds brother, Isaac, claimed a share of the invention but the courts ruled the patent and trade-marks were held by Mr. William.
Nowadays, when Mr. William Fuld’s son, who is carrying on his father’s business in the factory Ouija built, discusses the suit, he refers to his uncle, Isaac, as “that other party.”
Brother Brought Tax Suit
The same year that Mr. Isaac Fuld sued for a share of the ouija, Mr. William sued the Collector of Internal Revenue here for $200 in excise taxes. The Government contended the ouija was a game.
On the other hand, attorneys argued that it was not a game or contest, since there was no opponent. If there was an opponent, they said, it would have to be a spirit.
They did not say the ouija could contact the spirit, but left the door open by saying it might.
The court also hedged, it said “it seems safe to say psychologists recognize the board as a real means of the expression of automatism.” But at the same time it said the ouija was sold only for amusement purposes.
From Court To Court
In 1921, the District Court here denied the tax claim, classifying the ouija as sporting goods, and was upheld by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was carried to the Supreme Court but there it was thrown out.
There is no record of what the ouija said, if anything, when it landed.
Mr. William Fuld took his fame and fortune modestly, but did not live to enjoy them long.
He moved to 2511 North Charles street and a caller there found him, at the hight of his career, in an old straw hat and overalls, painting the shutters.
Killed In Fall
In 1927, while supervising the replacement of a flagpole on his factory roof, a railing he was leaning against, gave way and he fell and was killed.
His brother Isaac, who live at 2002 Homewood avenue, died in 1939, and with him died the story of just how the ouija was born.
The brothers never said publicly exactly how the board came into being and its the one question on which the ouija is mum.