- Historic Sites
In 1913 the Ouija board dictated a novel. Twenty years later it commanded a murder. It is most popular in times of national catastrophe, and it’s selling pretty briskly just now.
February/March 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 2
Two years after the Turley murder the Ouija was again implicated in a crime. In Kansas City, Nellie Kurd’s Ouija board told her that her husband, Herbert, a seventyseven-year-old railroad worker, was playing around with another woman to whom he had given fifteen thousand dollars from a secret fortune. When Herbert denied it, Nellie hired a private detective. According to Herbert, Nellie “beat me and burned me and tortured me into confessing all those lies.” He could not shake her from believing the Ouija. “So finally,” Herbert said, “I had to kill her.”
Isolated Ouija stories popped up between the two World Wars, but after Pearl Harbor another mass Ouija vogue began. John Geotis, a Madison, New Jersey, service-station attendant, refused to enter the armed services unless he could take his board with him. When the recruiting sergeant allowed him to test the board, it predicted that the Nazis would be defeated and the Greeks would hold out against the Axis. Although it later proved merely half correct, the Ouija accompanied Geotis to his Georgia base.
By 1944 Macy’s was selling thousands of them. “Turning to spiritualism for a feeling of security is not new to this war,” said R. S. Woodworth, professor emeritus of psychology at Columbia University. He predicted that the craze would end by 1945. It did.
The Ouija reappeared in 1956 when the will of Helen Dow Peck was read. To the outrage of nine nieces and nephews, Mrs. Peck left most of her $180,000 estate to John Gale Forbes, a man whose name her Ouija board had given her in 1919. To the relief of Mrs. Peck’s relatives, the elusive Forbes could not be located in this world, and a judge invalidated the will.
The Ouija gained new converts in the mass occult explosion of the 1960s; in 1967 it outsold Monopoly. Once again it aroused its opponents. Louisa Rhine, wife of J. B. Rhine, the lifelong researcher in extrasensory perception, wrote that Ouija boards should not be thought to bring messages from the spirit world, but as “automatisms can be considered as a method of tapping the unconscious.” If the Ouija is used by those who are suggestible and “also quite naive about the implications,” she warned, “the results can be upsetting.”
In doing the research for this article, I met many people who feared the Ouija. One librarian refused to discuss with me the research materials he unshelved lest he be entrapped by some occult force. In his 1975 book The Ouija Board: Doorway to the Occult , Edmund Gruss solemnly told how a board had predicted a series of disasters that eventually came true. When asked where it got its information, the Ouija spelled, “S-A-T-A-N.”
Is this device that grew from the rappings of the Fox sisters indeed only a game? In her complaint to Parker Brothers one user may have revealed more about the board’s workings than she intended. Her Ouija, she wrote, “gives very good answers early in the day and very dirty answers at night.”