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American Weekly 1940

Unknown Date, 1940
American Weekly

Strange Aftermaths Not Foreseen by the Ouija’s Inventors
Supposed to Contact the Spirit World, the Mystic Gadget Kept the Living and Dead Fuld Brothers Apart, Caused All Kinds of Trouble, Even Murder, in Other Families, But is Credited With Good Deeds Too, Such As Transmitting Ghost Literature and Finding lost Music

ISAAC FULD, co-inventor of the Ouija board, recently joined his older brother William in the world of spirits for which their invention did so much in the way of making conversation with ghosts cheap, and easy, if one believes in such things as, as millions certainly do.

But strangely enough Ouija had exactly the opposite effect on communication between the brothers, from the time William patented it in his own name in 1892. They were scarcely on speaking terms as long as both were still in the flesh and William must have carried the coolness beyond the grave because after his death there is no record that he ever used their mutual invention to call up brother Isaac and suggest that bygones he bygones.

Fully 50 years ago William, who owned a toy factory in Baltimore, Maryland, had a very good idea. He tried to invent something that would place table-tipping and spirit rapping within the range of everyone, elimination the cost of a medium and saving spirit labor as well as spirit material in the way of ectoplasm, the bother of turning down the lights and all that.

The first attempts were unsuccessful, perhaps because he had to please not only the cash customers here but their correspondents in the hereafter.

Then with a certain amount of assistance from his brother Isaac, he began improving the old French ghost-speaker, the planchette, which was a tiny table with three legs, one of them a pencil. The operator, placing his hands o the little table made it write, supposedly providing the muscle-power while some spirit dictated the message.

The Fulds developed this by adding a lap board on which appeared the alphabet, the ten numerals and the words yes and no. The spirits seem to take to this like ducks to water, rattling off messages at a great rate though some scoffers insisted that the operators were doing it all.

In obtaining his patent in 1892, William, described the action as follows:

“A question is asked and by the involuntary muscular action of the players, or through some other agency the frame will commence to move across the table.”

Mr. Fuld never guaranteed that the “other agency” was a spirit or that, if so, the message was trustworthy. For nearly half a century the Ouija board has enjoyed a steady sale with the occasional sudden bursts of extraordinary popularity. Isaac seems to have resented not being in the patent, the two quarreled, and were hardly on speaking terms from then until William died in 1927.

The first big boom in business came during the First World War. Throughout 1918 and 1919, the factory could not supply the demand from persons who hoped to communicate with those who had been killed in the war. Uncle Sam became Ouija-conscious, which was not so good because he wanted a 10% special war tax which had been imposed on games.

William protested that it was a scientific instrument and had statements from learned professors who were solidly investigating its workings. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. The nine judges were invited to ask Ouija itself, as the best witness but they insisted upon deciding entirely on material evidence submitted in the lower courts and Mr. Fuld had to pay.

One of the things fascinations was that Mystic and Oriental-sounding name which in reality, was only the combination of the French “oui” and the German “ja” both meaning “yes.” William’s son, William Jr., still manufactures it, under the name of the “Mystifying Oracle.”

Of the billions of words that came through there was the usual almost meaningless stuff which the “spirits” seem to think right for earthly consumption. But there were frequent exceptions that brought results sometimes valuable, sometimes disastrous, ranging all the way from finding a lost pocket-knife, to divorce and even murder.

Baron Erik Palmstierna, while Swedish Minister to Great Britain, wrote a book, “Horizons of Immortality,” in which he gave credit to the Ouija board for finding the “lost Schumann concerto,” which Schumann had given to his Hungarian friend Joseph Joachim, who stipulated in his will that it must not be played until the century of the composer’s death.

But Miss Yelly d’Aranyi, violinist, and granddaughter of Joachim, received urgent messages through Ouija to go and dig it out of its hiding place in the Prussian’s State Library at Berlin. It seems that when her grandpa and Schumann got to talking things over as one spirit to another, they decided that 100 years was too long to wait. So the concerto was played to the satisfaction of music-lovers in this world, and no doubt, those of the next, who have the advantage of being able to listen in on the concerts without paying admission.

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Herbert, Nellie Hurd, and Ouija Spirits

Not so agreeable was Ouija’s part in the slaying of his wife by 77-year-old Herbert B. Hurd of Kansas City in 1935. The frail old man did not kill his younger and sturdier wife on the advice of the spirits, but in self-defense against what Mrs. Hurd insisted they had told her to do to him.

On the authority of the toy and occasional trances into which she threw herself, Mrs. Nellie Hurd believed that Herbert, in spite of his age, was carrying on an affair with the wife of the neighbor. Also the ghosts told her that he had $15,000 buried somewhere but unfortunately they couldn't locate the exact spot nor could they tell her when to catch old Herbert in any aged infidelity.

Nellie hired a flesh-and-blood detective to spy on Herbert but when, after five days he told her that the spirits were liars, she told him he was blind and fired him. The spirits then told her that the only way was to torture the truth out of her husband. Mr, Hurd said that while slept, she would creep into his bedroom and hit him on the head with the butt of one of her pistols. While he was unconscious from the blow she would she would tie his hands and feet to the bedstead.

When his consciousness returned, she would be standing over him with some sort or torture instrument. Sometime sit was only a knotted rope with which she would beat him unmercifully. At other times she seared him with a hot iron or pricked him with the point of a knife. If in his pain he screamed too loud, she put him to sleep with another tap with her pistol. All the time she exhorted him to tell her about the buried treasure and the other woman.

This kept up until one night he actually made a signed confession of infidelity and that it was true about the buried treasure, but that he had dug it all up and given the last cent to the other woman.

Mr. Hurd said that there was not a word of truth of truth in it but he hoped it would satisfy her and the “cussed spirit,” and make them let him alone. But it didn’t, and so in desperation he took one of her pistols and with three bullets made a spirit out of her.

Mean and untruthful advice like that, it had been explained, comes only from a low and degraded type of spirit from which it is deduced that the next world is no better policed than this one.

But there are also the better sort of ghosts and ghostesses, such as showed such as showed their benevolence to the elderly Mr. And Mrs. William Hawley Smith of Peoria, Illinois. First came the spirit of the celebrated painter, Whistler, who showed Mrs. Smith a canvass he had just finished in the spirit world and next day guided her hand so she could make a copy of it herself.

Then came the poetic ghost of James Witcomb Riley, who dictated to Mrs. Smith the following verse by way of the Ouija board:
“Old fashioned roses, a-nod in the breeze,
And larkspur, slender and decked with bees,
Under the whispering leaves of June and the slanting rays of the afternoon;
And the soul of a friend to dream and smile,
And cheer your heart for a little while;
Don’t you feel that it’s near at hand,
The wonderful plane of the afterland?”

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Mattie Turley

A major defect in the “Afterland” seems to be that it lacks prison accommodations in which some of its denizens ought to be serving sentences of eternity. Such for instance, are the ones that told Mattie Turley, pretty 15-year-old Arizona ranch girl, she must make a spirit out of her father so her beautiful mother could be free.

A few days later, Mr. E. J. Turley, former gunner’s mate in the U. S. Navy received the slugs from both barrels of a shotgun in his back and some time later died. The gun was in the hands of his daughter Mattie, who explained that she has stumbled and fired accidently. This would hardly have been doubted had not the course of the shot in the father's body proved that they had been fired from the height of the girl’s shoulder, not from the ground, as she had said. Finally according to police, Sheriff Haws and Justice of the Peace Frank Whiting she made the following statement:

“Mother asked the Ouija board to decide between father and her cowboy friend. As usual the board moved around at first without meaning. Suddenly it spelled out I was to kill father. It was terrible. I shook all over.

Mother asked the Ouija if shooting would be successful and it said that it would; she asked if he would die outright and it said no. We asked what should be used and it said with shotgun. We asked if we would have the ranch and it said yes.

We asked about the law, and it said not to fear the law, that everything would turn out all right. We asked how much the insurance would be and it said $5,000.

I tried to kill him next day but I couldn't. I lost my nerve. A few days later though, I followed father to the corral. I raised the gun, took careful aim between his shoulders and then I lost my nerve again. But I thought of dear mother and what all this would mean to her and I couldn’t fail. My hand was trembling awfully though.

I raised the gun and fired.”

It was all very well when board spelled out consoling messages from soldiers who had died in the war because whether real or false, it gave considerable comfort to their relatives. But even in this Ouija went too far, purporting to give the real identity of the various unknown soldiers.

Ouija was often stubborn, inattentive, and frivolous. Sometimes, in the midst of a message it would abruptly sign off by pushing the little pointer down to the bottom of the board where were lettered the words GOOD BYE. More often it uttered gibberish or gave silly answers to serious questions. Many customers reported good results from scolding, threatening, and actually slapping Ouija. One of the best methods of bringing the ghostly visitors to their senses was to throw the outfit into the rubbish and leave it there for a week or two.

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Patience Worth & Mrs. Pearl Curran

In most cases, for good or evil, Ouija was only a passing influence in any household, rarely lasting more than a year or two. An outstanding exception is the famous case of “Patience Worth.” This mysterious entity claimed to have lived in a dreary, underprivileged life in the time of Shakespeare and returning in invisible form, she made her “home” with one family from 1913 to 1938.

On the first of these dates Mrs. Paul Curran laughingly tried her hand at the Ouija board while it was enjoying a fad in Detroit. Suddenly she cried out:

“Watch! I feel a message coming.”

Then the invisible entity introduced herself as follows:

“Many moons ago I lived.”

“If though shalt live then so shall I.”

“I make my bread by the hearth.”

This last meant, in archaic English, that she intended to live with the family permanently and so she did until Mrs. Curran’s death. During that time she dictated many poems and much prose, which she said was to pay for her bread. The invisible stranger of course ate no bread but she did take up a lot of the family’s time, so it was no more than fair.

Her novels and other prose, being in a stilted form, were nothing remarkable but some of her verses were, at least for spirit compositions. One of these is rather famous.

“To sing of mire?
The silt mayhap of stars.
The ash of aged Mays.
The bones of Kings who mouldered in their pride in other days.
Black-petalled roses, old with age, have writ this page.

“Mire? Who may gainsay I am the stuff from which the spring is born?
The stuff that spurts bedecking her fair morn in verdure and in bloom.
From which the sweet perfume exudes, and stifling, bears a dream.
A dream of pageantries that passed.
A dream of pageantries that could not last.
But passing scribe my substance with immortality!

“Priest, sinner, lout, the begger in his clout.
The mighty hands that make a mighty thrust.
The shining blade, its blood-bit rust —
One by one become but dust
And thus with me a part of common sod.
Awaiting the hand of G-d.
Mire? The common heritage of birth.
Mire? From which called called to being, Earth.”

After “living” with the Curran family for nearly a quarter of a century, one day the “spirit” of Patience Worth uttered this prophesy:

“Soon will my voice be mute.”

This was taken to mean that Mrs. Curran herself was about to pass on and very soon she did, of pneumonia.