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The Mysterious Talking Board: Ouija and Beyond

New exhibition features Ouija boards and a host of other talking boards from the 1890s to the present

SAN FRANCISCO – October 18, 2016 – Talking boards have their roots in Spiritualism, a belief in the ability of the dead to communicate with the living.  Spiritualism began to spread in the United States after the Fox sisters, aged eleven and fourteen, claimed to have communed with a spirit through mysterious raps they heard in their Hydesville, New York, home in 1848.  Over the ensuing decades, a number of interesting methods were devised to communicate with spirits.  In 1886, the press reported on a device used by some Spiritualists in Ohio—a talking board with letters, numbers, and a planchette-like device that pointed to the letters.  Spirits could spell out their communications with the living, while the living simply held their hands on the planchette as it moved towards various letters.

In 1890, Charles Kennard of Baltimore, Maryland, formed the Kennard Novelty Company with the help of several other investors, including Elijah Bond and William Fuld, to exclusively produce talking boards using the name Ouija board.  Dozens of others offered interesting versions of talking boards over the decades using a variety of names, although none surpassed the original Ouija board in popularity.  Many of these knockoffs featured an array of colorful imagery, from Egyptian sphinxes to swamis, fortune-tellers, and witches.

The public turned to talking boards for a variety of reasons.  Some claimed that spirits dictated entire books to them via the Ouija board.  World Wars I and II caused a surge in sales of talking boards as many civilians hoped to get in touch with loved ones who had lost their lives during the wars.  Others turned to talking boards to seek advice about their love lives or for guidance during troubled times.  The Ouija board permeated popular culture—a Norman Rockwell painting of a man and woman using a Ouija board appeared on the cover of a 1920 Saturday Evening Post.  Even sheet music incorporated the Ouija board, such as “Weegee, Weegee, Tell Me Do” (1920).  After more than one hundred and twenty-five years, the talking board continues to intrigue the public.

This exhibition was made possible by generous loans from Eugene Orlando of the Museum of Talking Boards and Robert Murch of the Talking Board Historical Society.

The online version of the exhibition is viewable at:


The Mysterious Talking Board: Ouija and Beyond is located beyond security screening in Terminal 2, Departures Level, San Francisco International Airport.  The exhibition is on view to Terminal 2 ticketed passengers from October 22, 2016 to May 07, 2017.  There is no charge to view the exhibition.