Ouija, The Wonderful Talking Board– a Baltimore Original


Figure 1.   Metal game board spinner from the Aged Home for Colored Men and Women, Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the MAC Lab.

Winter is still upon us and what better way to spend a cold, dark evening than settled by the fire with a board game and a few friends?  Whenever I visit my 30-something nieces and nephews, we make sure to schedule time for a game night (which usually turns quite raucous as the evening progresses!).  Board and card game popularity has been on the rise over the last eight years, driven largely by millennials (Graham 2016).  It will come as no surprise to readers that this recent upsurge in interest is part of a long history of board games.

The period between the 1880s and the 1920s has been described as the “Golden Age” of board games in America (Hofer 2003).  Their popularity was enhanced by mass production, which made games inexpensive and easily available.  The game board spinner shown in Figure 1 was found among other artifacts from an 1870-1910 Methodist Episcopal retirement home for African American men and women. 

Not many people realize that Ouija, a board game still popular today, was invented in Baltimore in the late nineteenth century.  We’ve all come under its spell at one time or another – usually, I suspect, as young and impressionable children.  Who hasn’t fallen under the lure of a hushed candlelit room, a tingling spine and a table set with a Ouija board and its promise to put us in touch with the departed? 

Figure 2. The popularity of Ouija was celebrated on the cover of the
Saturday Evening Post in 1920.

The Ouija board was created by Elijah Bond, a Baltimore attorney, and produced by the Kennard Novelty Company.  Several years prior, spiritualists in the Midwest had begun using “talking boards” as a means to make communication with the deceased easier to understand (McRobbie 2013).  These talking boards were the precursors of the product Bond and his partners patented in 1891.  The Ouija board contains all the letters of the alphabet, numbers from 0 to 9, and the words “yes”, “no” and “goodbye”.  When players put their fingers on a small heart-shaped wooden or metal piece called a planchette, spiritual forces will guide them to letters and numbers spelling out a message from the beyond (Figure 3).  And Ouija was instantly popular: by 1892, the Kennard Novelty Company had gone from one factory to six: with two factories in Baltimore and the others in Chicago, New York and London. 

The invention of Ouija and its popularity can be attributed to the rise of belief in spiritualism in Victorian America and Britain (McRobbie 2013).  In America, this movement began in the late 1840s when the three Fox sisters convinced people of their ability to communicate with the deceased.  Adherents of Spiritualism believed such communication was possible and engaged in this activity through seances, automatic writing or gatherings where participants were seated around a table that would spin or shake through no apparent human intervention.  Some of the great intellectuals of the nineteenth century, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Dickens were believers in spiritualism.  Queen Victoria participated in seances after the 1861 death of her husband, Prince Albert, and was said to have received messages from him (Diniejko 2016).  Mary Todd Lincoln sought the assistance of spiritualists after the death of her son, William, in the early 1860s.

Figure 3. Players placed their fingers on the planchett and waited for spirits to guide it to spell out a message. Photo courtesy of Bettman/Corbis.

While the Spiritualism movement lost energy later in the nineteenth century as mediums were exposed as frauds, the popularity of Ouija board has waxed and waned over the years.  In times of economic uncertainty or turmoil, such as the years around World War I and during the Great Depression, the popularity of the Ouija surged.  Some people believed that the Ouija board was a bad influence and a court case was held in the 1920s to determine if it was a toy (Thorpe 2018). 

Unfortunately, no shaped wooden pieces that formed the earliest game planchets have been recovered to date from Baltimore archaeological sites, but it is surely just a matter of time before one is pulled from a privy or cellar.


Figure 4.  Elijah Bond’s Ouija-themed tombstone in Baltimore’s Green Mount cemetery. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/elijah-bond-s-ouija-board-grave.

Although Elijah Bond divested himself of his interest in the Kennard Novelty Company by 1893 (McRobbie 2013), Ouija boards continued to be made in Baltimore until 1966.  Bond died in 1921 and was buried in a grave whose location was lost over the years.  Ouija board collector and founder of The Talking Board Historical Society Robert Murch spearheaded an effort to relocate Bond’s unmarked grave in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery (Atlas Obscura 2019). Around 2007, Bond’s grave received a new and entirely appropriate head stone (Figure 4).

Interest in Ouija continues; in 2012 the Baltimore Museum of Industry held a temporary exhibit entitled “Let The Spirit Move You: Ouija, Baltimore’s Mystifying Oracle” and the Ouija board played a big role in the 2016 movie thriller Ouija, the Origin of Evil.

References

Atlas Obscura.  2019.  Elijah Bond’s Ouija Board Grave. Atlas Obscura. Website accessed February 26, 2019 at https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/elijah-bond-s-ouija-board-grave.

Diniejko, Andrzej.  2016.  Victorian Spiritualism.  The Victorian Web; literature, history & culture in the age of Victoria.  Website accessed February 27, 2019 at http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/religion/spirit.html.

Graham, Luke.  2016.  Millennials are Driving the Board Games Revival.  CNBC.  December 22, 2016.  at https://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/22/millennials-the-board-games-revival-catan-pandemic.html. Hofer, Margaret.  2003.  The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games. New York:  Princeton Architectural Press.

McRobbie, Linda Rodriquez.  2013. The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board.  Smithsonian. com.  Website accessed February 27, 2019 at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-strange-and-mysterious-history-of-the-ouija-board-5860627/.

Thorpe, J. R.  2018.  The History of Ouija Boards, Where They Come From, & Why They’re So Freaking Creepy.  Bustle.com. Website accessed February 27, 2019 at https://www.bustle.com/p/the-history-of-ouija-boards-where-they-come-from-why-theyre-so-freaking-creepy-12279291.

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Oblate Sisters of Providence: The First Order of African-American Nuns


This post was written by former MAC Lab volunteer Lauren Morrell.  Thank you, Lauren!

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Front: Written in French, “O MARIE CONÇUE SANS PÉCHÉ PRIEZ POUR NOUS QUI AVONS RECOURS À VOUS” (Translation: O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee) around the Virgin Mary with rays emitting from her hands.
Back: 
Miraculous Medal motif showing the letter “M” with a cross over it, and under both are the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a crown of thorns, and the Sacred Heart of Mary pierced by a sword. Courtesy U.S. Army Garrison, Adelphi Laboratory Center.

This miraculous medal — a medallion that many Catholics believe was inspired by the Virgin Mary — was uncovered at Blossom Point farm in Charles County, Maryland (18CH216). The farm was part of St. Thomas Manor, which was patented in 1649 by Thomas Matthews and Father Thomas Copley, who were members of the Jesuit community. St. Thomas Manor has been owned by the Jesuits since then. The farm was rented to short-term tenants after the Civil War and this medal, which postdates 1832, was probably owned by one of the tenants.

Maryland has a long history with the Catholic religion. Founded in 1634 by Catholic Lord Baltimore, the colony became known as the cradle of Catholicity (Pyne 2008). The first Catholic church in the English Colonies was constructed in St. Mary’s City in 1667 (The Chapel of St Mary’s City, 2019). By the founding of the country, roughly ten percent of Maryland’s population were openly practicing Catholics, of which nearly 20 percent were slaves (Pyne 2008).

Baltimore has the distinction of being the birthplace of a Catholic religious institute that broke both racial and gender social norms. The Oblate Sisters of Providence were the first permanent community of Roman Catholic Sisters of African descent in the world; their mission is to “renounce the world to consecrate themselves to God and to Christian education of young girls of color” (Posey 1994). The title, Oblate Sisters of Providence, was given October 2, 1831, by Papal recognition as an official Catholic organization.

The community began in 1828 when Elizabeth Lange, a free woman of color, and Father James Nicholas Joubert, a white Frenchman, bonded over their shared French culture, Caribbean refugee status, devotion to the Catholic faith, and their commitment to providing education to black children (Morrow 1997).

Elizabeth Lange was born in the Caribbean around 1784.

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Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange

She immigrated to Baltimore in 1813, joining the growing community of free people of African descent. Baltimore, at the time, was the “free black capital” of 19th-century America, with a vibrant and involved community (Morrow 2000). Elizabeth saw a need to educate French- speaking children, so she and another Caribbean emigrant, Mary Balas, opened a school for children in their home (Morrow 2000). Continue reading

Several Centuries of Baltimore Bakeries


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Extract bottle found in a privy associated with early 19th -century Baltimore baker, Henry Dukehart.  Photo courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

Most of us probably pick up a loaf of bread from the supermarket when we purchase our other weekly grocery supplies.  But before large commercial bakeries began to appear in the late 19th century, most baked goods were produced and sold from small family-run bakery shops (what we would probably call “artisanal” bakeries in today’s parlance).  Because they were smaller operations producing baked goods at a neighborhood scale, there were many commercial bakers spread throughout large urban areas.  The City of Baltimore boasted 48 bakeries in its 1803 business directory, a number that had risen to 94 in mid 1830s.  By that date, Baltimore was the second largest city in the United States.

From around 1780 to 1807, Henry Dukehart operated a small bakery from a building at 13 Baltimore Street that served as both his home and his business.  The main baking operations occurred in the street-front rowhouse, but the building’s rear yard was also a workspace.  Archaeological excavations in this yard found evidence of a paved work surface containing an ash-filled brick pit that may have been part of a small oven.  While too small to serve as the primary bake oven, it could have been used for drying flour or in the final drying and crisping process for hard breads like biscuits or zwieback (Weaver 1990).  Another possibility is that the pit was associated with a still for making fruit brandies or flavored extracts. Continue reading

The Non-Importation Movement


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Figure 1.  This reconstructed creamware  plate was recovered from the Dalrymple Privy at the Albemarle Row House site (18BC50) in Baltimore.   

Refined earthenware ceramics produced in the Staffordshire region of England are among the most ubiquitous artifacts recovered from late 18th- and 19th-century archaeological sites in Maryland.  The plate to the left, molded with a rim motif known as shell edge, was made of creamware, a type of ceramic first produced in the 1760s.   Thanks largely to the ingenious marketing savvy of its creator, Josiah Wedgwood, creamware was a huge commercial success in England, Europe and the American colonies (Towner 1978).

Creamware’s rise to popularity coincided with rising economic tensions between England and the thirteen American colonies.  To raise funds to support the defense of the American frontier, the British government passed in early 1765 The Stamp Act, a tax on printed materials like newspapers, legal documents, ship’s papers and more (Brugger1988).  American colonists viewed this act, which was passed without their consent, as an ominous precedent for future taxation.  Continue reading

Avoiding the Spread of the “Wasting” Disease


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Figure 1: Refined white earthenware funnel for a spitting cup. This funnel was recovered from a privy that was filled in the second quarter of the 19th century.

This odd little funnel is a recent addition to the collections at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (Figure 1).  It was discovered in the 1980s in a Baltimore privy (18BC66) filled in the second quarter of the 19th century.  The shape of the rim, measuring 4.00” in diameter, suggested that it was meant to fit over another vessel. I speculated that it might have been used in the kitchen for filling jars with foodstuffs like preserves.  But then I found a match for this vessel, paired with a mug, in a circa 1830s English pottery pattern book (Figure 2).  Since the funnel and mug were shown on the same page as a bedpan, I began to suspect the funnel had a different type of utilitarian function.  A quick call to English ceramic specialist George L. Miller suggested that it was a spitting cup.

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Figure 2.  Page from the Machin and Potts Waterloo Works pattern book that depicts a spitting cup.  The pattern book is undated, but probably dates to the second quarter of the 19th century.

Continue reading

Tagging 19th-Century Style: Maryland State House Acorn


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Figure 1. Charles Willson Peale, A Front View of the State-House &c. at Annapolis the Capital of Maryland, ca. 1789.   This illustration was made soon after the completion of the dome.  The acorn is barely visible above the dome.  Maryland State Archives.

Graffiti has been around since the dawn of humanity, it seems.  Considered in the right light, some people might deem Neolithic cave art as a form of graffiti. Archaeologists working at Pompeii uncovered many examples of graffiti, much of it x-rated. In my childhood, a popular youthful pastime was to paint the town’s water tower; today tagging boxcars and the sides of buildings with names is commonplace. So it should not be surprising that some residents of 19th-century Annapolis found a similar way to immortalize themselves at the Maryland State House.

In 1694, the capital of the Maryland colony was moved from St. Mary’s City to Anne Arundel Town, which was renamed Annapolis the following year.  Perhaps one of the most iconic landmarks in Annapolis is the State House, whose cornerstone was laid on March 28, 1772 (Brugger 1988).  Completed in 1779, it today is the oldest state house still in legislative use (MSA 2007). Continue reading

Beer in Baltimore – Two and Half Centuries of Sudsy Brews


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The Natty Boh man atop Natty Boh Towers.

Baltimore is a city known for its breweries and is not afraid to show it – driving into the city on Route 95, travelers are sure to see the mustachioed Natty Boh man winking at them from the top of Natty Boh Tower.  National Bohemian beer, for which the Natty Boh man was named, was first brewed in Baltimore by the National Brewing Company in 1885.  Baltimore’s love affair with sudsy brews goes as far back as the mid-eighteenth century.  The first brewery began operation in Baltimore in 1748; since that time, over 115 breweries have operated in the city (Arnett et al. 1999:274).

In 1983, the newly-formed Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology conducted an excavation at the site of the former Clagett’s Brewery, at the corner of President and Lombard Streets.  Thomas Peters opened the Baltimore Strong Beer Brewery in 1784, locating his operation along Jones Falls to take advantage of the water available for brewing the ales and beers, for carrying away brewery waste products and for constructing a wharf for export of his products.  The brewery operated under as many as ten owners (including Eli Clagett) until 1880, when the property was sold to the Maryland Burial Case Company (Akerson 1990).

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Two of the malting tiles found at the Clagett’s Brewery site.  The tile on the left shows the malting floor surface side, while the tile on the right shows the underside, with the deep cell structure.

In addition to discovering the foundation of the brewery’s malthouse, and the on-site brick townhome and privy of Peters and his family, a number of artifacts related to the brewery operations were discovered during the 1983 excavation.  Several dumps of nineteenth-century bottles, surely used for the brewery products, were uncovered.  More unusual were over three dozen perforated unglazed ceramic tiles used as flooring for the malting kiln.  Manufactured in Bridgewater, England by two different companies in operation in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century, each tile measures one-foot square and contained 1600 small holes (Bromwich 1984).  These holes allowed hot air to enter the drying room from the floor below, preventing the sprouted barley from growing so that it could be used to produce malt (Comer et al. 1984). Continue reading