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Omaha Magazine

Dialing the Dead

Sep 22, 2023 04:20PM ● By Lizzy Diamond
60+ nostalgia ouija october 2023

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Listen to this article here. Audio Provided by Radio Talking Book Service.

To some, Ouija boards are sinister vehicles to contact evil spirts. Others see the boards as an interesting way to connect with those who are gone, while some may view them as a silly parlor trick sold by a board game company. 

Talking boards have existed as a method to reach the deceased for centuries. The earliest variations of this method of spiritual communication date back to 1100 AD, in China. The most widely recognized version of the talking board, the Ouija board, was made in 1891 by Kennard Novelty Company. 

The Ouija board was originally invented as a way to contact loved ones, inspired by the practice of reaching out to the dead that grew popular during the carnage of the Civil War. Sales continued to boom during first and second world wars. Until the 1970s, talking boards had a relatively lighthearted reputation. That changed with the release of William Friendkin’s The Exorcist in 1973. After moviegoers witnessed a little girl possessed after using a board, many grew weary of the game. 

There is much speculation as to whether or not Ouija boards actually allow users to commune with spirits. Cindy Odorizzi of Magical Omaha—a shop specializing in metaphysical items—shared her thoughts on the mystifying topic. 

“Ouija boards are nothing particularly magical. They are just a tool, much like tarot cards. They help you get in a mindset and meditative state to be able to communicate with spirits or energies,” she said. “Most people get into this mindset easily, but the board can be a useful aid. I have also seen the boards work too well when overly excited participants unknowingly (or knowingly) make the planchette move with their fingertips.”

Omaha had its own version of a talking board, the ‘Ouija Queen,’ produced here in the mid-twentieth century. The idea for the Ouija Queen came from James Acuff, who partnered with Isadore Chapman of Iowa Finance Company to fund the production. The Ouija Queen functioned the same as Ouija boards, but there were a few visual differences of note. As opposed to the Ouija board’s neutral black or brown, the Ouija Queen had a colorful blue and yellow background with star illustrations. The Ouija Queen had “Au Revoir” printed across the bottom instead of “Goodbye.”

Chapman founded the American Novelty Company in 1943 specifically to produce the popular talking boards. The Ouija Queens were produced at a factory in South Omaha that was staffed by women and older men not fighting in the war. During production, workers would take home boards and try to contact their sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands who had been lost overseas. It provided hope and comfort in trying times.

Production of the Ouija Queen continued in Omaha through the 1960s before the American Novelty Company eventually retired the board. The company went on to manufacture other Halloween-themed products, like small stone statues and glow-in-the-dark skeletons, but they never returned to the talking boards. Today, prices for Ouija Queen boards can reach up to $350 online. 

Whether Omaha’s orignal or the more popular version sold nationally, many have formed unique, ocassionally thrilling experiences around a talking board. Omaha Native Katie Evans recounted one such occasion:

“I was in fifth grade the first time that I used one. My older sister had introduced me to them,” Evans recalled. 

She’d go on to use the Ouija board multiple times in grade school with her siblings. But during those sessions, her sister forgot to mention a few important rules— like, never playing alone and always saying goodbye to spirits before ‘hanging up.’ 

“She did not tell me the rules, and I broke them all,” Evans confessed. “I did it by myself. I did not say goodbye.” 

Once, Evans decided to play alone in her basement after midnight. The lights were turned off and candles were lit, just like her sister had done before. The game piece spelled out a name: “William.” 

“That was the last time that I used one. I threw it back in the box, threw it into the game closet and ran back upstairs.” 

Despite her terrifying last experience, Evans would consider using a Ouija board again. 

“Maybe with a group of people...I’d definitely be cautious and follow the rules,” she said. 

Odorizzi also shared that she’d experiment with Ouija as a kid; then, with her mother and sister, and in adulthood with a friend. The latter would engage with a spirit board a few times a month.
“Some days we would get nothing, other times it would be very rewarding,” Odorizzi said. “One time my grandmother came through and told me a sweet, personal message...” 

She also described an instance when the board spelled out “Chevrolet” after it was asked to offer the friends a name they’d understand. 

“Most of our experiences were just a few unanswered questions before we would lose contact with the spirit,” she said. “Almost like they were stations on a radio, and we could only tune into them for a short distance...” 

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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