A look at the strange history of the haunted Grove Park Inn, and the famous people (and ghost) who’ve stayed there.

Built by a quinine medicine mogul based on plans drawn up by his son-in-law (who was not an architect), the Grove Park Inn is has hosted many famous guests. F. Scott Fitzgerald lived there for two years, 10 presidents have stayed there, as did Thomas Edison and John D. Rockefeller. And then there’s the Pink Lady, a mysterious female ghost who employees and guests have reported encountering.

Highlights include:
• F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “beer cure”
• The Pink Lady ghost
• A scenic mountaintop grave
• A terrifying advertisement for quinine
• Zelda Fitzgerald’s last years and tragic death
• The US Supreme Court’s nuclear war plans
• Staying at an isolated cabin in the woods
• A place called “Bat Cave”
• Workers living in circus tents

Note: there are several mentions of suicide/attempted suicide throughout the episode, as well as details about dying in a fire.

 

 

Episode Script for The Haunted Grove Park Inn, Asheville, North Carolina

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

“It was 3:00 A.M. in front of the fireplace. A lady showed up, I took a picture. She was not there. The next picture, she was there. And then she disappeared.”

-Dave Bergam, an employee at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC

 

  • I’ve been asked if I was gonna do some North Carolina ghost stories, since I’m here for the summer, so I’m finally getting around to that.
  • Last weekend, we went to Asheville, which is a town in the mountains of western NC near Tennessee. Think blue ridge mountains, Mount Mitchell, etc.
  • In a perfect world, we would have wanted to stay in Asheville and see the sights there, but because of COVID, we kept to the surrounding smaller towns mostly.
  • We stayed in a very remote cabin in an unincorporated area called Bat Cave. We didn’t have internet or anything, and the cabin was in the mountains at the top of a bunch of winding roads, off an unpaved road that isn’t visible on google maps.
  • The area is very misty, strange, and creepy. It was surprisingly mild for summer, in the 60s and 70s.
  • It’s a really spooky area. For example, Mt Mitchell is named after a scientist who died while trying to prove that it’s the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi (it is.) He’s buried at the summit in a big stone tomb
  • Sadly, we didn’t get to do any ghost hunting, b/c the people I was traveling with are a little nervous about ghosts.
  • But even though I didn’t get to explore Asheville itself very much, or ghost hunt, I still did some research about the area, so I figured I’d share that with yall.
  • There are so many cool Asheville ghost stories and the history of the area is so interesting that I’m actually just going to talk about a single hotel which has a fun ghost story but an even better backstory.
  • I got a ton of this info from NorthCarolinaGhosts.com

 

Grove Park Inn

  • One of the big Asheville ghost stories is the Pink Lady, who fell from a balcony on the fifth floor (supposedly from room 545), in the center of the hotel above the main lobby. She landed in the Palm Court, which is an interior atrium that the guest rooms are arranged around.
  • She wasn’t a registered guest; she was staying with someone who was a guest.

○ She’s supposed to be a kind and beloved ghost.

○ She seems to like children, and appears to children more than she does to adults.

○ She sometimes appears near the beds of sick children, where she strokes their hands and speaks soothingly to them

○ Once, a doctor left the hotel a note requesting that the staff thank the woman in the pink ball gown, who his children had enjoyed playing with while they were there

○ She apparently like harmless pranks, like switching off a/cs and other devices. Sometimes she rearranges objects, or tickles a guest’s feet

○ The waiter at the hotel restaurant said she definitely existed, and had encountered several strange things during the night, like one time when a commercial lock unlocked itself.

○ She appears as either a pink mist, or as a full apparition of a young woman wearing a pink ball gown

○ Some people say she was a debutant who accidentally fell.

○ Other theories are that she may have been a sex worker or an insane woman.

○ Other people say that she was a servant sleeping with the married man in the house she worked in and she jumped when he tried to end their affair. Another theory is that she told the man she was pregnant, so he pushed her off.

○ Some people say that the woman is Zelda Fitzgerald, because in 1935-36, F. Scott Fitzgerald lived at the hotel for two years while his wife, Zelda, was in the insane asylum in Asheville.

  • I also read that F. Scott Fitzgerald had TB so was there to recover, though other places said he went there for anonymity and quiet. It sounds like he claimed he had a “mild case” of TB, but actually just had a bad flu and was an alcoholic.

□ He decided to move to Asheville, and moved Zelda from the institution where she was in Baltimore to Highland Hospital in Asheville

  • While he was there, he rented two rooms, one for sleeping and one for writing, according to an English professor at Western Carolina University named Brian Railsback. To quote this professor:

“He came to the Grove Park Inn and chose these rooms so that he could overlook the main entrance. He could see the cars that were pulling up and he could see if there were any interesting women who might appear to be single and what were they wearing.”

□ He did have an affair with a rich married woman who was staying at the inn. He called her Rosemary, after a character in his book tender is the night, which had been published in 1935 to bad reviews and bad sales

□ “Rosemary” had gone to Asheville with her sister, who had some sort of nervous condition

□ Rosemary’s husband had stayed home in Memphis

□ She wanted to leave him to be with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and she offered to pay all of his expenses for Zelda and their daughter

□ Eventually, he realized that the affair couldn’t continue, so it sounds like he had Rosemary’s sister break up with Rosemary for him. She had to threaten to tell Rosemary’s husband she didn’t end the affair

  • It sounds like F. Scott was in bad shape at the time. He had a serious drinking problem, and was trying to break his addiction to gin using “the beer cure” so he was drinking 50 ponies of beer per day.

□ A pony can apparently mean several different measurements, but it should be somewhere between 3 and either 12.5 pints, though my guess puts it in the higher range of that.

□ I also read elsewhere that he drank 30 bottles a beer a day some days, though sometimes he was able to substitute it with Coke or coffee, but it doesn’t sound like that was super often

  • This was 10 years after publishing the Great Gatsby, and his writing wasn’t going so well.

□ He was mostly writing stories for magazines to pay his considerable debts and Zelda’s medical bills

□ But many of his magazine articles were getting rejected

□ Going to the Grove Park Inn was supposed to help inspire him, since it was full of rich and interesting people

□ But this was the 1930s, during the great depression, and people weren’t very interested in reading what the wealthy were up to

□ An employee who worked at the Inn said that every day, a housekeeper emptied his trash, which was full of typewritten pages and empty beer bottles

□ One interesting thing that I read is that apparently F. Scott would take parts of Zelda’s journals and put them into his work, and some short stories that she wrote were published under his name for publicity reasons. So I do wonder if her institutionalization and their relative estrangement affected that

  • He turned 40 at the Grove Park Inn, and one time while drunk, he fell in the bathroom and was found the next morning on the floor with a broken shoulder

□ However, I also read this account of what happened, in an article on blueridgecountry.com:

Scott broke his shoulder in a failed swan dive that summer and had to miss a lunch date with Zelda on her 36th birthday. He was in a plaster cast that kept his arm raised, and he also developed arthritis in that shoulder, adding to his pain and depression. That same summer, a reporter for the New York Post wrote a critical account of Fitzgerald’s life at 40. It proved devastating for Scott to read and to realize how far his life had spiraled down. He drank a small bottle of morphine in a suicide attempt, but it only made him vomit.

  • He invited a New York Post reporter to visit him to help rehabilitate his reputation, but that didn’t work. The article described him as a:

□ “very broken man, who’s physically feeble and mentally very pathetic and reaching to the highboy to have a drink — with a nurse on hand to watch him constantly because he had fired off a gun here in the hotel that same summer in ’36.”

□ The rumor was that he fired the gun as a suicide attempt, though it sounds like that’s debated, though he considered suicide after the story was published

□ It’s said that this was one of the darkest points in his life

  • So meanwhile, Zelda was at Highland Hospital in Asheville, which was an expensive hospital for the wealthy
  1. Scott rarely visited her; when they saw each other, they tended to get upset

□ Zelda was in and out of the hospital for 12 years, while meanwhile, F. Scott left Asheville in 1937 and went west to try to write movies. He got an offer to write movies for MGM; he was paid handsomely, but it sounds like he only wrote one movie himself, though he contributed to some other scripts but was uncredited

® The director Billy Wilder said that Fitzgerald in Hollywood was like: “a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job.”

□ The last time he and Zelda saw each other was on a trip to Cuba in 1939, where apparently F. Scott broke up a cockfight, got assaulted, and then had to be hospitalized when he returned to the US because he was so drunk and exhausted

□ He died of a heart attack in 1940.

□ At the time, it seems like Zelda was diagnosed as schizophrenic, though later medical staff at Highland Hospital it was more likely that she was bipolar

□ We talked about this during our Ouijamania in 1920 episode, but during this period, treatment for mental illness (especially schizophrenia) was very bad–people were often shackled or in straighjackets

□ Highland, I assume since it was for rich people, was different–it focused on diet, exercize, fresh air, etc.

□ Zelda died in the asylum when it burned down in March 1948

® She was actually about to be released, and the doctors cleared her to leave, but she decided to stay a few more weeks to make sure she was really doing okay

□ There are different rumors about why the hospital burned down; some  the fire was set by an angry nurse. Apparently a night nurse actually turned herself in saying she may have caused the fire. Charges weren’t filed, but she was institutionalized

□ It’s unclear what actually caused it, but 9 people died and the building was destroyed.

□ Zelda had been heavily sedated, as had some other women who also died. They identified Zelda’s body because of a red leather slipper she was wearing

□ Nothing else was built on the site, and today it’s just a field

□ So some people think that Zelda Fitzgerald is the pink lady, and that her ghost returns to the inn so she could relive happier times. Given everything we know about their time in Asheville, I find that extremely unlikely. It sounds like they wouldn’t have any positive associations with the Inn.

® To quote Zelda’s biographer, Nancy Milford, who wrote about when Zelda would visit the inn:

◊ “When the Fitzgeralds met it was usually for lunch. They would sit in the dining room far away from the other guests. Scott did not introduce Zelda to anyone and frequently they would sit through an entire meal in silence. After lunch, they walked down the terraced gardens into meadows rimmed with pines and sat on white wicker settees overlooking the mountains, Scott smoking constantly, Zelda lost in silence.”

® That doesn’t sound like a happy memory

  • You can still stay in the rooms F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed in, and one of them is furnished like it was when he was there.
  • But the story of the hotel is really weird and interesting, moreso than the actual ghost story, I think, so I want to get into that history.
  • The inn was built by Edwin Wiley Grove, a man who sold medicines such as Grove’s Tastless Chill Tonic and Laxative Bromo Quinine tablets.

○ He started selling the Tasteless Chill Tonic in 1885 as a fever remedy (in particular, it was used for malaria). It was basically quinine in a sweet syrup that cut the bitter taste of quinine.

  • A lot of people said it wasn’t tasteless, but it beat drinking straight quinine.
  • Supposedly, by 1890, more bottles of Groves’ Tasteless Chill Tonic were sold that bottles of Coca-Cola.
  • Also, there’s a truly terrifying advertisement for it that you can find on northcarolinaghosts.com, which shows Grove’s face on a pig’s body. He’s wearing a lace collar with a little bow below his chin, and on the side of the pig, it says “MAKES CHILDREN AND ADULTS AS FAT AS BIGS” and it claims that 1.5 million bottles were sold the previous year.

○ The laxative rolled out in 1896. It was quinine mixed with a sedative and a laxative, and it was supposedly a cold treatment.

  • They say that advertising was the reason why his products were so popular, which is very funny to me, because he named the product Laxative Bromo Quinine tablets, which seems like terrible marketing to me.
  • But I guess his signature was on every package, so people knew it was the authentic, high-quality product.

○ I looked it up, and apparently there used to be a real malaria problem in the United States, the south in particular. In the 1940s, the government did a major public health push to get rid of malaria in the US, and by 1949, it was declared that malaria was no longer a major public health problem.

  • To be clear, that means it’s possible that malaria still exists in the US apparently?

○ Grove is described as a self-made man, though I don’t really believe that anyone  is self-made, especially a white man in the south  after the Civil War. His identity alone would have been a big boost up.

  • Also, I read that he “served in the Civil War” which I think we can assume means he was a confederate soldier.

○ He was from Tennesse, but when he visited Asheville in 1897, he decided to build a summer home there, but ended up moving there permanently.

  • One of the reasons why he moved to Asheville was because he believed the climate would be good for his health.
  • In particular, his doctors suggested he go there to see if the weather there would (quoting from wikipedia here): “reduce or cure his bouts with extreme hiccups, which would last several weeks at a time.”
  • Though elsewhere I read that he had bronchitis often, as well as what sounds like chronic fatigue

○ Starting in 1910, Grove started buying up farms in the area. He also bought and demolished some TB sanitariums.

  • He would use that land to start developing Asheville, and basically transform it into the place he wanted it to be.
  • He wanted to build an inn, and local architects just didn’t get his vision, so instead, he had his son in law design it, who wasn’t trained in building or architecture.
  • The Grove Park Inn was built over a little under 12 months; it was finished in 1913.
  • During construction, workers were housed in circus tents. It also sounds like he paid people more the more they worked.
  • 400 men worked 6 days a week, in 10 hour shifts. The hotel was constructed from granite boulders, some of which weighed 10,000 pounds.
  • Grove insisted that no cut stone should be visible to guests. One brochure said that guests would see only “the time-worn face given to it by thousands of years’ sun and rain that had beaten upon it as part of the mountainside.”
  • The hotel was furnished with arts and crafts style furniture from upstate New York.
  • 400 rugs were imported from france, as well as linen curtains and line
  • It has a huge lobby with an enormous granite fireplace and a scenic view from a large porch.
  • The lobby, or Great Hall, has huge fireplaces that burn 12-foot logs.
  • Advertisements said that the walls were five feet thick.
  • The roof is three feet thick and made from cement, steel rods, asphalt, and clay tiles–that apparently makes it fireproof.
  • When the hotel opened, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan gave a speech to what wikipedia called “400 of the most distinguished men in the south”
  • Seely , Grove’s brother-in-law, had a bunch of rules when he managed the hotel. No cars were allowed to enter the property between 10:30 pm and 9 am. Guests were asked not to turn on faucets late at night. Bring children was discouraged.

○ Tons of people visited the hotel. Some earlier visitors included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Helen Keller, John D. Rockefeller, George Gershwin, Harry Houdini, and Al Jolson.

○ Once WWII started, the inn was used as a place to intern enemy diplomats. The diplomats were allowed to go to town as long as they were guarded, which supposedly helped the local economy.

  • Just reminder, 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were put in concentration camps during the war (62% of those interned were citizens.)
  • This was just motivated by pure racism–anyone with 1/16th or more Japanese ancestry were put into the camps. It was also motivated by greed–for example, many white farmers wanted Japanese American farmers removed, to get rid of competition.
  • Conditions in these American concentration camps weren’t good. The idea was that they weren’t supposed to be worse than the worst kind of military housing.

□ The facilities were basically barracks out in the middle of nowhere, with no plumbing or places where people could cook. Often, 25 people would have to live in spaces built for 4 people.

□ One camp in Wyoming was fenced in by barbed wire, had cots instead of beds, and a $.45 budget for food per person. $.45 in 1942 is $7.46 today.

□ The camps were patrolled by armed guards, who at some points shot people for going beyond the barbed wire fences.

□ Food poisoning was common, and there were outbreaks of dysentery in some of the camps.

  • I could go on for a lot longer about this, but the point I’m trying to make here is that the US government put innocent people in concentration camps, while putting Axis diplomats in an extremely fancy hotel.

○ The Navy also used the inn as a R&R center for sailors who were coming home, and it was also used by the Army to house soldiers who needed R&R between assignments.

○ Also, the exiled Phillipine government supposedly operated from the Presidental Cottage on the grounds during the war.

  • I hadn’t known anything about this, but nine hours after Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, Japanese forces invaded the Philippines, where there’d been a large American military presence.
  • Though one note: I found this info on the wikipedia page for the Grove Park Inn but haven’t been able to confirm it elsewhere, so I’m not sure how true it is.

○ In 1955, the inn was bought by Sammons Enterprises. And Mrs. Sammons used to bring her dog to the inn in a baby carriage. It sounds like she did that to be discreet about having a dog there, though I have no idea why the owner would need to hide the fact that she has a dog with her–seems like she’d be able to do anything she wanted.

○ In 2013, Omni Hotels bought the hotel, so now it’s the Omni Grove Park Inn.

○ We talked about some older famous guests, but more recently famous people have stayed there, including Michael Jordan, Daniel Day-Lewis, Macaulay Culkin, Anthony Hopkins, Dan Akyrod, Seinfeld, John Waters, Jlo, John Denver

○ 10 presidents have stayed at the hotel: Taft, Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Eisenhower, Nixon, HW Bush, Clinton, and Obama

In the event of a nuclear attack on the US, apparently the US Supreme Court will relocate to the Grove Park Inn.

Sources consulted RE: the Haunted Grove Park Inn

Websites RE: the Haunted Grove Park Inn

  • https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60742-d93940-Reviews-The_Omni_Grove_Park_Inn-Asheville_North_Carolina.html#REVIEWS
  • https://northcarolinaghosts.com/mountains/
  • https://northcarolinaghosts.com/mountains/ghost-chicken-alley/
  • https://northcarolinaghosts.com/mountains/pink-lady-grove-park-inn/
  • https://northcarolinaghosts.com/mountains/naked-ghost-craven-street-bridge/
  • https://www.romanticasheville.com/brown_mountain_lights.htmhttp://brownmountainlights.com/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Omni_Grove_Park_Inn
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Wiley_Grove
  • https://traveltips.usatoday.com/history-grove-park-inn-asheville-22468.html
  • https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/history/elimination_us.html
  • https://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/asheville-grove-park/property-details/history
  • https://www.hauntedrooms.com/north-carolina/asheville/haunted-places
  • https://www.hauntedrooms.com/north-carolina/haunted-places/haunted-hotels/grove-park-inn-asheville
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pony_glass
  • https://www.npr.org/2013/09/03/216164420/for-f-scott-and-zelda-fitzgerald-a-dark-chapter-in-asheville-n-c
  • https://blueridgecountry.com/archive/favorites/fitzgeralds-asheville-days/
  • https://blueridgecountry.com/newsstand/magazine/the-tragic-death-of-zelda-fitzgerald/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._Scott_Fitzgerald
  • https://ashevilleterrors.com/grove-park-inn/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Americans
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_of_the_Philippines
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_in_exile_of_the_Commonwealth_of_the_Philippineshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_occupation_of_the_Philippines
  • https://northcarolinaghosts.com/mountains/pink-lady-grove-park-inn/
  • https://the-line-up.com/the-pink-lady
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/pink-lady-grove-park-inn
  • https://ghosthuntersofasheville.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-pink-lady-of-ghost-park-inn.html
  • https://avltoday.6amcity.com/asheville-ghosts/
  • https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/north-carolina/helens-bridge-asheville-nc/
  • https://mountainx.com/news/community-news/0703erwin-php/

Listen to the Ouija board series:

Don’t miss our past episodes:

A look at Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, a Mexican folk saint who gives hope to people on the edges of society, whose popularity has skyrocketed over the last 20 years.

The Catholic Church has condemned Santa Muerte as “satanic,” the Mexican military has destroyed shrines to her, the Mexican government refuses to acknowledge the veneration of Santa Muerte as a religion, and the media in the US and Mexico have conflated the cult of Santa Muerte with drug cartels.

But that’s not the whole story. We take a look at the history behind Santa Muerte and see how many people who’ve felt rejected by the Catholic Church have been able to find hope, comfort, and community in Santa Muerte.

Highlights include:
• Marijuana smoke used as incense
• A trans woman who puts on the largest festival to Saint Death
• A reimagined version of the rosary
• Frida Kahlo holding a ying yang

 

Episode Script for The Cult of Santa Muerte, aka Saint Death

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

“Who better to ask for more time, for a few more years, than death itself? She’s seen as the great protectress, so for those who have so much that they need protection from, she is very powerful.” -Andrew Chestnut, professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint

 

 

  • So this topic isn’t exactly Ouija focused, but I was going through some of the articles I’ve saved about Ouija board murders and I got through exactly one article before getting sidetracked into this topic.
    • Now, fair warning, this is a fairly gruesome story, so anyone who doesn’t want to hear it can skip ahead a minute or so and get to the meat of the episode.
    • I have a folder of more recent Ouija murders, and I opened one from October 28, 2010, from The Tribune in Mesa, AZ, about a beheading that police believed was connected to a drug cartel.
    • They found a 38-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, named Martin Alejandro Cota-Monroy, who had been decapitated and left in an apartment. He’d been stabbed multiple times, and his head was found near his body.
    • Another article about him said that he’d stolen 400 pounds of weed and some meth, and he’d told the cartel that border patrol had seized the drugs.
    • Neighbors said that four men had been drinking in the apartment, and then some of them men left, then came back and murdered him.
    • So what does this have to do with Ouija or with today’s topic? Well, this paragraph piqued my interest:
      • Initial media reports indicated that the man’s death could be connected to a Mexican religious ritual, the Saint of Death, because candles and a Ouija board were found at the scene. But [a police detective] said the murder had “nothing to do” with the religion, although drug dealers and drug cartel members are known to participate in it because they believe if they do, it will protect them from law enforcement.
    • So naturally I was like, huh, I’ve gotta look that up.
    • I was only familiar with Santa Muerte because of the connection to drug trafficking, though when I read this article, I wanted to learn more about Saint Death, because it felt like I was only getting a very small part of a much larger story.

 

The Santa Muerte is also known as Saint Death, Holy Death, and the Bony Lady

 

And also, because the word “cult” is often used in relation to Santa Muerte, I just wanted to clarify that in a religious context, “cult” just means the wordship of veneration of a specific diety, and the rites associated with that diety. It doesn’t have the negative connotation that we think of when we hear the world “cult” and think of Aum Shrinrikyo or NXVIM.

 

  • So when I say that there’s a popular folk saint in Mexico called Saint Death who looks like a brightly dressed skeleton, probably the first thing most people think of is Day of the Death, or maybe the idea of La Catrina.
  • These are not all the same thing, so I wanted to quickly lay out some groundwork here:
    • The Day of the Dead is celebrated on Nov 1-2. It’s a time when people honor their ancestors and keep the deceased alive through memories and altars. The altars might contain a photo of the person who died, surrounded by some of their favorite things. The idea if that they’re reminding the dead that they haven’t been forgotten. It’s sort of a combination indigenous and Catholic practices. And probably a lot of people think of sugar skulls and candies, etc, when they think of Day of the Dead.
    • And then La Catrina is one of those things that people probably think they don’t know, but they really do.
      • You’ve probably seen an etching of a smiling skeleton leaning forward and wearing a wide-brimmed, fancy hat adorned with flowers and lace and feathers.
        • That was an engraving by Jose Guadalupe Posada, a political cartoonist who created this engraving around 1910 to represent Mexicans who were trying to adopt the traditions of European aristocracy in pre-revolution Mexico.
          • (The Mexican Revolution lasted from about 1910-1920, and was a reaction to the reign of Porfirio Diaz, a dictator who “modernized” Mexico, and whose administration was full of corruption, excess, and obsession with European culture and materialism. His reign created a concentration of huge wealth among the very wealthy, and made everyone else poorer.)
        • In the original leaflet that La Catrina appeared in was about a woman who wore French-style clothes and wore tons of makeup to make her skin look whiter because she was ashamed of her indigenous heritage.
        • Posada was relatively unknown by the time he died, but he was a huge influence on artists like Diego Rivera, whose 1947 mural Dream of a Sunday afternoon along Central Alameda, which depicts a bunch of historical figures in Mexico’s history.
          • Those figures include Posada, who’s holding arms with La Catrina, who stands in the center of the group. The on the older side of La Catrina stands a child version of Rivera, holding La Catrina’s hand, and of course, his wife Frida Kahlo is standing behind him holding a yin-yang.
          • The mural is all about bourgeois complacency before the Mexican revolution, and while it shows well-dressed people strolling along, it also depicts indigenous people being forced back by police, and the victims of the Inquisition.
      • La Catrina has since become a popular image and has been tied in to the Day of the Dead, but she began as a political statement aimed at the wealthy

 

 

 

 

From the daily beast:

“From Argentina to Canada, there is no religious movement growing faster,” says Andrew Chestnut, professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint. “Get this, going back to 2001, Santa Muerte is essentially unknown to 99 percent of Mexicans. Today, a decade and a half later, I estimate that there is some 10 to 12 million devotees in Mexico, the U.S., and Central America.”

  • Over the past 10 years in particular, she’s become very popular.
    • José Luis González, a professor at Mexico’s National School of Anthropology and History who specializes in popular religions said:
      • “The emotional pressures, the tensions of living in a time of crisis lead people to look for symbolic figures that can help them face danger. If you look at it from the point of view of a country that over the last ten years has become dangerously familiar with death, you can see that this skeleton is a very concrete and clear symbolic reference to the current situation.”

 

A little bit about the history of Saint Death:

  • Originally Saint Death was a man, but it sounds like she became a woman pretty quickly
    • However, in Paraguay, Argentina, and parts of Brazil there’s a male skeletal folk saint named San La Muerte, and in Guatemala, there’s one named Rey Pascual
  • Statues of her are usually a skeleton draped in colorful robes, often holding a scythe and a globe
    • The scythe represents cutting negative energies or influences, or since it’s used in harvesting, it can also symbolize hope and prosperity . It’s also said that it reflects the moment of death, where the thread of life is cut. And since the scythe is long, it represents how death reaches everywhere.
    • And then the globe represents death’s dominion over earth.
  • Sometimes she’s also depicted holding scales, an hourglass, an owl or an oil lamp
    • Most of that symbolism is obvious, though the owl represents how she’s wise and can navigate the darkness. The owl is also her messenger.
    • And the lamp represents intelligence, spirit, and it lights the way through the darkness of ignorance and doubt
  • The color of her robes often corresponds to what a petitioner is asking for. So for example, if someone’s looking for a husband, they might dress her as a bride. But often she’s in kind of typical saint garb, like a medieval nun’s outfit
    • Many of the colors she’s dressed in will be somewhat familiar to folks who do candle magic and color correspondences, with white symbolsing purity or cleansing, red standing for love, gold relating to proseperity, etc.
    • Dark yellow or amber symbolize heath, so statues of her wearing that color appear in rehab centers
    • Some people pair her with a seven-color candle, which some people say is adopted from the seven powers candle of Santeria
  • Apparently, Santa Muerte may have come from a combination of an early Aztec goddess and a female grim reaper named La Parca, or “the parched one”, who the Spanish invaders introduced
    • But no miracles came from her until the 1940s, when Mexican women would dress in black and ask Santa Muerte to bring their philandering husbands back to them. But if Santa Muerte couldn’t do that, then she would get rid of the other woman instead.
  • She’s a personification of death; she isn’t a dead human.
  • The first time Santa Muerte got a lot of press was in 1998, when a gangster was arrested and police found a shrine to her in his home
    • So that caused her to be associated with criminals
    • According to the Daily Beast, some cartel members pray to Santa Muerte for assistance, but the media tends to exaggerate the darkness of the Cult of Santa Muerte.
    • The Mexican government and media call her the “sinner’s saint” and highlight her popularity among drug runners and prisoners
      • Santa Muerte was venerated in secret until the mid-20th century, and when public shrines appeared dedicated to her, people often desecrated them
      • Part of the reason why Saint Death is popular among people who commit crimes is because it’s easier to approach Saint Death for help doing bad things, than it is to turn to another saint
      • A young inmate of the state prison of Culiacan, Sinaloa, told the National Geographic: “La Muerte is always beside you—even if it’s just a little postage stamp that you put up above your cot, you know that she’s not going to move, that she’ll never leave.”
        • One thing I wanted to note was that the National Georgraphic articles that I used as sources had some interesting info but were very anti-Santa Muerte
      • One thing worth noting is that much like in the US, Mexico adopted a neolibral “tough on crime”  stance that in effect began penalizing poverty.
        • In Mexico City in the 1990s and 2000s, the police forces were “reformed” because there was a public perception that crime was getting worse.
          • In 2003, Rudy Guiliani visited Mexico  and suggested some changes that resulted in “zero tolerance” policies that raised the prison population greatly, from 87,700 in 1992 to 176,400 in 2002. And in Mexico City, there’s been a large increase in the prison population since the early 200s0.
          • So of course more and more prisoners are devotees of Santa Muerte, because there are more and more prisoners in general.
          • There’s been a lot of debate about whether the changes made any difference to crime in Mexico and Mexico City.
          • In particular, there’ve been crackdowns on street vendors in the history city center, and there’ve been raids on markets and nightclubs that have caused many people to be picked up in huge law enforcement sweeps, whether or not they were necessarily committing a crime
          • A lot of this info comes from a great academic article from the Journal of Latin American Studies, La Sante Muerte in Mexico City: The Cult and its Ambiguities by Regnar Albaek Kristensen (2/5/15), which geotagged shrines to Santa Muerte and compared it with places where policing had increased, and they found that there was a correlation. The author of the article argued that part of her popularity is that there are “power relations at work beyond one’s control”
          • The article also talks about how Santa Muerte connects families with their relatives who are in prison, and she’s often treated and thought of as more like a female family member than a female saint.
          • If you want to know more about this, definitely read the article–I’ve linked it in the shownotes. You’ll be able to get a lot more nuance about the issue than I’ve been able to express here.
          • The author also interviewed a family in Mexico City and got their stories about how Saint Death helped them after they’d been set up by a wealthier neighbor who was out to get them. It’s an interesting story because it’s implied that Santa Muerte punished them for not properly honoring her, but then she saved them when they treated her better and asked for her help.
        • And while crime statistics are very suspect and should be taken with a grain of salt, according to wikipedia, a lot of people in Mexico are really suffering:
          • The war on drugs there has been going on since 2006. 120,000 are dead and 37,000 people are missing because of that.
          • Mexico’s National Georgraphy and Statistics Institute said that in 2014, about 1/5 of Mexicans were victims of some kind of crime
          • A lot of pushes to try to get rid of organized crime have been criticzed by human rights groups as just escalating the violence
          • And it’s probably worth mentioning than more than 100 journalists and people in the media industry have been killed or disappeared since 2000, with very few of those crimes solved (generally, they aren’t properly investigated)
          • So I can see why people are looking for protection from violence

 

  • The first public shrine to Sante Muerte was established in Mexico City by Enriqueta Romero: she built a shrine in with a life-sized statue of Saint Death in the window of her home, which is visible from the street.
    • Romero is a sort of chaplain of the shrine, a position she inherited from her aunt, who started the tradition in the family in 1962
    • On November 1st every year, Saint Death’s followers go to the shrine and pray the Santa Muerte rosary (which is based on the Catholic rosary.) Instead of incense, they use marajuana smoke for incense. Food is served, as well as drinks like hot chocolate and coffee, and mariachi and marimba bands perform.
  • In the 2000s, the Mexican Ministry of Interior revoked its registration of Saint Death as a legitimate religion, but that didn’t change how anyone felt about her
  • In March 2009, the Mexican army destroyed 40 roadside shrines to her near the US border
  • It’s much more common for people to ask for help with money, jobs, love, or protection from harm
  • She’s often approached for healing, protection, financial matters, and assurance of a path to the afterlife
  • Since death doesn’t discriminate, neither does Santa Muerte. The Cult of Santa Muerte is popular among queer people, sex workers, drug cartels, and millennials (apparently a lot of her followers are in their teens, 20s, and 30s).
    • A lot of her followers are part of the urban working class.
    • Though some wealthier people, including artists and politicians, may secretly venerate her, many rich people look down on the Cult of Santa Muerte as a superstition.
    • She has devotees of all genders, though I’ve read some places that she’s more popular among women.
    • Apparently a lot of same-sex marriage ceremonies in Mexico invoke
    •  Santa Muerte.
      • And the Traditionalist Mexican-American Catholic Church, a independent Catholic Church in North America that split away mostly because of Santa Muerte, recognized gay marriage and performed wedding ceremonies.
      • Though of course the Mexican government revoked its status as a religion in the 2000s. The Archbishop was arrested back in 2010 or 2011, though I think he still tries to lead the religion from prison.
  • Chestnut said that Santa Muerte has a reputation for being a quick and effective miracle worker.
    • Usually saints have specific powers or purposes, but Santa Muerte performs all sorts of miracles, and many of her followers see her as second only to god
    • She’s supposed to be specially good at protecting against violent death

 

  • Many people who believe in Santa Muerte identify as Catholic, though the Catholic church says that she isn’t a saint, and that she’s satanic
    • In 2013, the archdiocese spokesman of Mexico City said: “The cult of the Holy Death is destructive. It is blasphemous, it is diabolical and obviously it is anti-cultural.”
    • The Vatican even made a statement: “It’s not religion just because it’s dressed up like religion; it’s a blasphemy against religion.”
    • Many followers of Saint Death are still Catholic, much to the church’s chagrin. And though the group has no hierarchy, there are people in Mexico who identify as “priests” and say that their temples are part of the official Catholic Church
  • Around 2005, Santa Muerte started to become more popular in the US
  • Items relating to her cult can be purchased in botanicas, and Chesnut said that many botanicas in both the US and Mexico are kept in business selling Saint Death items, with many shops earning half their income from her
  • The daily beast interviewed someone named Arely Gonzalez, a trans woman who grew up in Mexico but now lives in Queens. She has the biggest shrine to Santa Muerte in NY, and she throws the biggest festival in the US in honor of Santa Muerte’s birthday.
    •  Gonzalez says she identifies as Catholic and believes in the Virgin of Guadalupe (one of Mexico’s most popular saints, which appears in shrines all over Queens.)
    • Despite identifying as Catholic, when she lived in Mexico, Gonzalez was kicked out of Catholic churches.
    • She became a follower of Santa Muerte when a friend gave her a statue and she prayed to the saint to help with her health problems. She told her that if she cured her, she’d start putting on festivals in honor of her. Santa Muerte helped her, and the rest is history.
    • The folks who attend Gonzalez’s Santa Muerte festival are mostly Mexican immigrants, but there’s apparently an increasing number of devotees from Central and South America
    • At the festival, which is usually held at a rented hall in Jamaica, Queens, hundreds of people gather, dance to mariachi music, and eat
    • They also say the rosary, tailoring it to specially honor Santa Muerte
    • There are, of course, no priests there
    • People bring their idols to add to the shrine
    • The festival usually lasts all night
    • Gonzalez has a home shrine that people bring offerings to, so they leave stuff like candles and tequila, as well as statues of saints and angels, and Jesus. Other common offerings to Saint Death are cigarettes, flowers, fruit, incense, water, coins, and candy.
    • Gonzalez said: “I think she is an angel sent by God. Like her name says, I think we’re all one short step from life to death. Sooner or later, she takes the rich, the poor— everyone. There is no one who can save himself from her.”
    • In the shownotes, I’ll include two links to a project called Faith in the Five Boroughs, which have two short videos showing Gonzalez’s shrine as well as the party she puts on, which I strongly recommend watching.
  • One note: Santa Muerte’s birthday is the second Saturday of August, aka yesterday. I was really excited by the synchronicity when I yesterday, on a whim, decided to do this episode about her. (Though to be fair, I’ve also heard that her days are August 15 and Day of the Dead, so I don’t think she just has one festival day.)
  • When the National Georgraphic asked Enriqueta Romero, who established that shrine in Mexico City, what she thought of the church rejecting followers of Saint Death, she said: “They can just go ahead and do that. But have you seen how empty their churches are?”

Sources consulted RE: The Cult of Santa Muerte, aka Saint Death

Websites  RE: The Cult of Santa Muerte, aka Saint Death

  • I Call Her La Flaca

  • You Can Ask Her For Anything

  • Journal of Latin American Studies, La Sante Muerte in Mexico City: The Cult and its Ambiguities by Regnar Albaek Kristensen (2/5/15):
    https://www.scribd.com/document/414513346/La-Santa-Muerte-in-Mexico-City-the-Cult-and-Its-Ambiguities

  • https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-death-worshipping-cult-of-santa-muerte

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Muerte

  • https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/5/130512-vatican-santa-muerte-mexico-cult-catholic-church-cultures-world/

  • https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2010/05/mexican-saints/

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditionalist_Mexican-American_Catholic_Church

  • https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/response/santa-muerte-and-the-interplay-of-cultures-on-dia-de-los-muertos/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_Revolution

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sue%C3%B1o_de_una_Tarde_Dominical_en_la_Alameda_Central

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Calavera_Catrina

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Guadalupe_Posada

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexico#Contemporary_Mexico

  • Police believe beheading was ‘hit’ from drug cartel By: Sakal, Mike. Tribune, The (Mesa, AZ). 10/28/2010.

  • http://www.nbcnews.com/id/41883795/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/cops-ariz-beheading-linked-mexican-cartel/

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A look at Thomas Edison’s Spirit Telegraph, an apparatus to contact the spirit world that he claimed to be working on, but which never surfaced.

In 1920, famed inventor Thomas Edison gave a series of interviews bragging about a device he was testing, a spirit telegraph, which spiritualists could use to give their seances a more scientific bent. Though he despised Ouija boards, table tipping, and other trappings of spiritualism, Edison believed that his new invention could determine whether the human personality persisted after death, once and for all. The only problem? The invention never materialized.

Highlights include:
• Creepy uses for the phonograph
• The “little people” or “life units” that make up our bodies
• Electrocuting an elephant in Coney Island
• The chapter of Edison’s diary that his family had removed
• Edison’s ghost

 

Episode Script for Thomas Edison’s Spirit Telegraph

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

“Edison–the man who has given us the electric light, the phonograph, the motion picture, the nickel-iron storage battery, the perfected dynamo and a vast collection of other devices entering into our everyday life–is about to devote himself to something which is infinitely more interesting than any invention can ever be.”

-from an article in the Boston Globe, October 31, 1920

“I have been at work for some time, building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this Earth to communicate with us.” –Thomas Edison, in an interview in The American Magazine in 1920

  • A little detour in our Ouija board convo–let’s talk about the Edison Spirit telegraph, or spirit phone.
  • A bit of background on Thomas Edison: he was maybe the most famous American inventor.
    • He had over 1,000 patents to his name.
    • He invented the phonograph, motion picture camera, early versions of the electric lightbulb.
    • He also started the first film studio, called the Black Maria, in NJ.
  • He was born in Ohio in 1847, grew up in Michigan, and when he was a teenager, he worked as a telegraph operator on the railroad.
  • He had some hearing issues because of a childhood case of scarlet fever.
  • When he got older, he claimed that his hearing loss made him focus better and get distracted less often.
  • A lot of people these days think that he had ADHD, which makes sense to me, since it would have allowed him to really hyperfocus.
  • It’s really interesting to me that so many of his inventions had to do with communication, because of his hearing issues.
  • He also supposedly believed in nonviolence; for example, when he was asked to be a naval consultant during WWI, he said he’d only work on defensive weapons. He once said: “I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill.”
    • He was a vegetarian and didn’t believe in violence toward animals.
    • However, you should take all of his pacifism with a huge grain of salt. Because when the State of New York offered Edison the opportunity to design NY’s  first electric chair, he accepted. And on August 6, 1890, Edison and one of his assistants performed an execution via the electric chair. However, it was a disaster, and the person being executed was in pain for a long time before dying, and was subjected to increasingly intense shocks, until he finally died.
    • It sounds like part of his interest in this gruesome method of execution is because of his feud with Nicola Tesla, and their argument over whether direct current or alternating current is better.
    • So to try to prove his point, he had several public demonstrations where he executed animals using the electric chair
    • And in 1903, he filmed the public electrocution of a female elephant named Topsy. The elephant may have killed some members of a circus troupe, so that’s why they killed her. I watched it, and it’s upsetting. It’s also really weird because it was filmed at Coney Island, and behind the elephant, there’s what looks like Luna Park being built or rebuilt.
  • He also opposed debt based money, and once said:  “Gold is a relic of Julius Caesar, and interest is an invention of Satan.”
  • Edison was agnostic, and he joined the Theosophical Society in NJ in 1878, though he wasn’t a very active member.
  • He once said:  “I do not believe in the God of the theologians; but that there is a Supreme Intelligence I do not doubt.”
  • The story of the spirit telegraph begins in 1920, a time that we know was really hot when it comes to Ouija boards.
  • In October 1920, Edison told American Magazine that he was building an apparatus that could open up lines of communication with the spirit world.
    • He claimed that it would make the Ouija board seem old-fashioned.
    • After that article was published, the magazine received 600 letters to the editor, written by readers who were fascinated by the device.
  • It’s not so weird that an inventor like Edison would be interested in spiritualism, since Sir Oliver Lodge was into it and he was a physicist.
  • In 1920, Edison would have been in his 70s, so I’d imagine death was weighing on his mind.
    • Also, since Edison had invented the phonograph, he’d literally created a way for people to hear the voices of people who had died. We’re used to recordings, but that must have been mind-blowing at the time, and seemed just as outlandish as a machine that could talk to spirits.
      • Also, sidenote about the phonograph: sometimes, dying people used to record their memories and last words on the phonograph, so everyone who went to their “phonograph funeral” could hear them one last time.
      • And far from finding that weird, Edison had actually suggested that as a possible use for the phonograph. He was a morbid dude.
    • Supposedly Edison had many spiritualist leanings, and I read  that he was a fairly active spiritualist until he met his last wife, Mina, whose father was a Methodist minister. (They married in 1886.)
  • However, Edison didn’t seem to like being characterized in the press as a spiritualist.
  • Here’s what he had to say about spirits:
    • In the first place, I cannot concieve such a thing as a spirit. Imagine something which has no weight, no material form, no mass; in a word, imagine nothing! I cannot be a party to the belief that spirits exist and can been seen under certain circumstances and can be made to tilt tables and rap and do other things of a similar unimportant nature. The whole thing is so absurd.”
  • The author of the Boston Globe article this quote is from said that the only reason that Edison granted the interview was because he wanted to correct the idea that people had of him as a spiritualist.
  • But here’s what he did say:
    • I have been thinking for some time of a machine or apparatus which could be operated by personalities which have passed on to another existence or sphere. Now, follow me carefully: I don’t claim that our personalities pass on to another existence or sphere. I don’t claim anything because I don’t know anything about the subject. For that matter, no human being knows.
    • But I do claim that it is possible to construct an apparatus which will be so delicate that if there are personalities in another existence or sphere who wish to get in touch with us in this existence or sphere, this apparatus will at least give them a better opportunity to express themselves than the tilting tables and raps and ouija boards and mediums and the other crude methods now purported to be the only means of communication.
    • In truth, it is the crudeness of the present methods that makes me doubt the authenticity of purported communications with deceased persons. Why should personalities in another existence or sphere waste their time working a little triangular piece of wood over a board with certain lettering on it? Why should such personalities play pranks with a table?
    • The whole business seems so childish to me that I frankly cannot give it my serious consideration.
    • I believe that if we are to make any real progress in psychic investigation, we must do it with scientific apparatus and in a scientific manner, just as we do in medicine, electricity, chemistry, and other fields.
    • Now, what I propose to to is furnish psychic investigators with an apparatus which will give a scientific aspect to their work. This apparatus, let me explain, is in the nature of a valve, so to speak. That is to say, the slightest concievable effort is made to exert many times its initial power for indicative purposes.
    • . . . If this apparatus fails to reveal anything of exceptional interest, I am afraid that I shall have lost all faith in the survival of personality as we know it in this existence.
  • He compared his proposed invention to a power plant, where a person can create a huge amount of power through a steam turbine with very little effort. His idea was that the apparatus would turn a “slight effort” into something that was magnified enough for investigation.
  • He said that he’d been working out the details of the spirit telegraph for a while, and said that one of his collaborators died the other day. He said that he felt his deceased collaborator should be the first spirit to use it, since he’d be familiar with the basic concept of the machine.
    • I think this is a joke but I’m not 100% sure.
  • The article notes that Edison doesn’t really believe in widely accepted theories about life and death, though he said that he believes that “life, like matter, is indestructable”
  • He said:
    • There had always been a certain amount of life on this world and there will always be the same amount. You cannot create life; you cannot destroy life; you cannot multiply life.
  • He also described how he thought our bodies were made up of “myriads and myriads of infinitesimal entities, each in itself a unit of life”
  • He talks about how if you took  a print of your thumb, then burned off your thumbprint, when your thumb healed, your distinctive thumbprint would grow back. He said he thinks that the life entities that your body is made up of are what plan and supervise that new growth. Because it’s not your brain, since it’s not like you’ve memorized your thumbprint and can will it to grow back.
  • He also used the analogy of a Martian coming to Earth. This Martian might have less detailed eyesight than ours, so they might be able to see something large like the Brooklyn Bridge, but they couldn’t see us. They’d assume that the bridge was a natural growth like a plant or rock. Then the Martian might destroy the bridge, and be surprised to return a few years later and see that the bridge had been rebuilt in the same place? Then he asked whether it’d be logical for the Martian to assume that the bridge just regrew naturally, or if it’d be more logical for them to assume that something intelligent planned and rebuilt it?
  • He theorizes that “once conditions become unsatisfactory in the body, either through a fatal sickness, fatal accident, or old age, the entities simply depart from the body and leave little more than an empty structure behind.”
  • He says that the entities live forever and there are a fixed number of them, so they pass on to another person or start creating some other new life once they leave the dead person’s body.
  • I think that’s kinda an interesting theory to think about, because the obvious argument against it is that there’re more humans now than there have ever been, so how would that work? But then again, tons of animals have gone extinct, forests have been chopped down, etc, in the service of their being more humans. So maybe someone advocating for this theory could just say that the entities had left those animals and plants and gone into new human life.
  • So I think his machine was meant to measure the scattered entities that created life, though I read elsewhere that the machine would find a frequency that the dead could speak through. Which sounds an awful lot like a spirit box.

 

  • In 1926, he told the NYT that he never actually intended to create a spirit telegraph; he claimed that when a man interviewed him in 1920, “I really had nothing to tell him, but I hated to disappoint him so I thought up this story about communicating with spirits, but it was all a joke.”
    • However, I don’t believe him. There’s too much that he’s said about the invention, both in his own writing and in interviews.
  • Edison died in 1931, and no one ever found a machine in his things that could have been a spirit phone or telegraph.
  • Even though there wasn’t a machine or blueprints, Gerald Fabris, Museum Curator of Sound Recordings at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, said that Edison may have really been working on it. Fabris said:
    • “Edison considered thinking about something to be serious work. He posted copies of the following quotation around his laboratory for his employees to see: ‘There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the true labor of thinking,’ by Sir Joshua Reynolds.”
  • Also, I read that Edison gave a demonstration of a device to contact the beyond to a group of scientists sometime in the 1920s. (It sounds like it was basically a motion sensor device.)
  • Supposedly during a séance in 1941, Edison’s ghost said that three of his assisstants had the plans to the spirit telegraph, but when the machine was built, it didn’t work.
  • At a later séance, Edison offered some advice to improve the machine, and an inventor named J. Gilbert Wright who was at the séance worked on thee machine until he died in 1959, but as far as we know, he wasn’t ever able to speak to spirits.
  • Several articles showed drawings of what was supposedy Edison’s invention, though they were published after his death, in 1933 and then in 1960.
  • In 1948, a book called The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison was published. It contained a chapter with Edison’s beliefs about the afterlife, and his surviving family was so mortified that they demanded that all unshipped copies of the book be destroyed, and that the shipped books be recalled. Later that year, the book was republished with 70 pages removed.
  • The two chapters that were taken out were Chapter 7, about Edison’s economic views, and Chapter 8, about spiritualism.
  • I did find a PDF of chapter 8, which is entitled The Realms Beyond, and I’ve linked that in the shownotes.
    • I read it, and much of it is very similar to the Boston Globe article I quoted earlier, and some of it is verbatim from that interview.
    • It does get a little sillier, calling the life entites “little people” and really personifying them a lot.
      • He said he thinks the “little people” didn’t come from earth, and that they came from “some other body elsewhere in the universe.”
      • He also said that these life units are sort of like swarms of bees that go elsewhere when someone dies, and that they’re so small that they could never be seen through any microscope, and that they could go through solid objects like stone or concrete walls almost as easily as through air.
    • He does mention spiritualism and he calls it a harmful superstition
    • He also says: I have been at work for some time building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us. If this is ever accomplished, it will be accomplished, not by any occult, mysterious, or weird means, such as are employed by so-called mediums, but by scientific methods.
    • I liked the final lines of the book, talking about life after death:
      • I do hope that our personality survives. If it does, then my apparatus ought to be of some use. That is why I am now at work on the most sensitive apparatus I have ever undertaken to build, and I await the results with the keenest interest.

 

  • In 2015, the spirit telegraph made headlines again when a French journalist named Philippe Baudouin found a rare unexpurgated edition of the diary, which apparently detailed the plans for the spirit phone, and describes it as a high-powered phonograph that could pick up ghostly whispers.
    • I’m gonna be honest, in skimming the chapter, I didn’t spot much info about the device, it was mostly just weird stuff about little people, but I probably missed that.
    • The journalist wrote a book about the topic in french, and there’s also a 20-min documentary in French (with english subtitles) about it, which I’ve linked in the shownotes.
    • It’s an interesting documentary that draws a lot of parallels between the idea of the spirit telegraph and the phonograph, and the ghostly aspect of communication technology, etc.

 

Sources consulted RE: Thomas Edison’s Spirit Telegraph

Websites  RE: Thomas Edison’s Spirit Telegraph

  • Article in American Medicine

  • Scientific American article

  • Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious … By James A. Herrick

  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/dial-a-ghost-on-thomas-edisons-least-successful-invention-the-spirit-phone

  • https://www.ozy.com/true-and-stories/the-greatest-turn-of-the-century-inventors-really-wanted-to-talk-to-ghosts/221925/

  • https://hauntedpalaceblog.wordpress.com/tag/edisons-diary/

  • https://hauntedpalaceblog.wordpress.com/tag/edisons-diary/

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Edisonhttps://archive.is/7cmBb

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edison%27s_Black_Maria

  • https://science.howstuffworks.com/10-inventions-thomas-edison10.htm

  • https://www.reliableplant.com/Read/27212/Edison-invention-calls-dead

  • https://lisaandherworld-lisah.blogspot.com/2019/02/edisons-forgotten-invention-phone-that.html

  • https://www.nps.gov/edis/learn/historyculture/mina-miller-edison.htm

  • https://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/how-thomas-edison-used-a-fake-electric-chair-execution-1829652181

  • http://itcvoices.org/thomas-edison-the-lost-chapter/

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Quinta da Regaleira Symbolism: A deep dive into the mysteries and history of a strange palace and garden built by an eccentric millionaire in Sintra, Portugal.

Sometimes described as a playground for adults, Quinta da Regaleira is a mysterious estate built by a millionaire entomologist in the early 20th century, full of occult and masonic references. Chris talks about the history, symbolism, and some theories about the place.

Highlights include:
• A city named after a moon temple
• Freemason symbolism
An Initiation Well
• A tree that’s the last of its kind
• Green men
• Pentagrams on church floors
• Secret tunnels
• A “floating” library

 

 

Quinta da Regaleira

Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

A goat head decorating a building / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

Tower / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

Leda’s Cave / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The palace / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The door to the church basement / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The front of the church / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The church interior (ground floor) / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The church ceiling (ground floor) / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The palace / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

Another castle, seen from Quinta da Regaleira / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

A green man adorns a decorative urn / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The Initiation Well / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The Initiation Well / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The Initiation Well / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The Initiation Well / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The Portal of the Guardians–crocodiles or dragons? / Photo by Chris

Quinta da Regaleira

The Unfinished Well / Photo by Chris

 

 

 

Episode Script for Quinta da Regaleira Symbolism: The Occult Mysteries of a Portuguese Palace and Garden

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

“Since the beginning of recorded time, Sintra has been regarded as a land cloaked in mysticism. It permeates its steep hillsides and even its air. It’s common to be surrounded in nevoeiro (fog) one moment and the next, bathed in sunlight. . . . You can feel a bigger, stranger power at work in those hills. Its legends have been passed orally through generations and have survived since the time of the Moors — and maybe even before then.”

-from an article in Atlas Lisboa about paranormal events in Sintra, Portugal

 

“Since the beginning of recorded time, Sintra has been regarded as a land cloaked in mysticism. . . . You can feel a bigger, stranger power at work in those hills. Its legends have been passed orally through generations and have survived since the time of the Moors — and maybe even before then.”

-from an article in Atlas Lisboa about paranormal events in Sintra, Portugal

 

Intro to topic:

  • I visited it by chance, while on my honeymoon in Portugal. My wife and I were headed to a castle higher up on the mountain and got tired right as we reached an ornate portal set against the side of what looked like a large, walled garden set into the side of a mountain.

The whole story:

  • About an hour’s train ride from Lisbon lies the town of Sintra. It’s a popular tourist destination, because it’s a charming, historic town complete with several palaces and castles set on the side of a group of mountains.
  • Even in the 19th century, it was a favorite haunt of Romantic poets like Byron. Apparently he once wrote a poem that alluded to hooking up with men in Sintra.
  • And there’s even a story about occultist Aleister Crowley visiting the area, which we’ll talk about on a later episode, because it’s fascinating and weird.
  • And part of the Roman Polanski movie The Ninth Gate, a thriller starring Johnny Depp who plays a rare books dealer, was filmed there. (Have you seen that?)
  • The area has a pretty creepy history.
  • In Roman times, the people of the area built a temple to Emperor Octavius Augustus II, but once they built it, Rome rejected it for some reason. So then the people of the area dedicated it to the moon, Cinthia [note: I think pronounced with the th], giving the area it’s name, Sintra.
  • One night, in October 1984, the residents of a farm in Sintra called the police, saying that rocks were being thrown at people.
    • When the police came, they brought lights and saw that the stones were coming out of thin air.
    • When they felt the stones, they were warm to the touch.
    • One firefighter said loudly that he didn’t believe in witchcraft, and then a stone came flying at him and would have smashed his head if he hadn’t stepped back at the last minute.
    • The activity seemed centered around the groundskeeper, but no one knew why, and after that night, it didn’t happen again.

 

On the side of a mountain in Sintra, Portugal, sits a strange, esoteric estate.

  • The buildings are full of symbolism related to Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, and alchemy. Stylistically, the buildings are a combo of Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline.
  • The Manueline style is a Portuguese architectural style that looks like if a Gothic church, a wedding cake, and an Indian palace were combined into an extravaganza of carved flowers, birds, and nautical elements.
    The first named owner I could find of the property was the Baroness da Regaliera.
    • She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Porto, the big port city in Portugal.
    •  She bought the land in 1840 and turned it into a summer home, complete with a huge house and a chapel.
  • In 1892, an eccentric millionaire entomologist named António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro bought the estate at a public auction. 
    •  He was born in Rio, but his parents were Portuguese.
    • His family was wealthy, and he became even richer by selling coffee and precious stones in Brazil. When he moved to Portugal, he studied law.
    • The official guide to the estate calls him a “celebrated capitalist,” which seems about right.
    • Apparently he was a bibliophile, collector, poet, and an occultist.
    • One of the few concrete details I was able to find about him was that he was famous for owning what was at the time the most complicated watch in the world, called a Leroy 01. 
  • After buying the estate, Monteiro purchased some other land around it. The official map says that the property is pentagonal, though other people have noted that it looks like an upside down pentagram.
  • Monteiro was originally going to build a French Neo-Gothic house on the property, but by chance while on a train ride, he met an Italian architect and opera set designer named Luigi Manini. They must have really hit it off, because he hired Manini to help design the estate, which they built over the course of 6 years, from 1904 to 1910.
  • The estate sprawls across 10 acres of land. It contains various grottos and ponds, which they had to built 5 miles of acqueducts to bring water to. 
  • It was known as the “Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire”
  • There’s a weird dearth of good information in English about the site; almost everything I found was just a regurgitation of the information from wikipedia.
    • There was one book that I found that looked good, but it was in Portugese, is out of print, cost 100 to buy used, and I couldn’t find it online.
    • So instead, I read every article I could find about the estate.
  • A bunch of the articles about contradict each other.
    •  For example, I found one article that claimed that Monteiro wasn’t a Freemason, and that the Templar symbolism is just his homage to Portugal’s history, and that no initiation rites were held on the site.
    • Based on the level of occult symbolism on the estate, that seems like BS, but I’m mentioning it just as an example of the kind of variation there is in what’s been written about the place.
    • Also, based on the youtube videos I watched, a lot of the interest in the site is just because people are able to take good instagram pictures of the Initiation Well, so a lot of articles about it are basically just vehicles for those pictures.
  • Most of the stuff I read about the estate basically said, “It’s really weird and beautiful, it’s full of occult symbolism, it’s a mystery and we’ll NEVER KNOW WHAT IT MEANS.”
    •  But that seems really ridiculous to me, because it’s barely more than 100 years old, and I don’t think any of the occult symbolism is lost to time, or anything.
    • When I was there, I was able to recognize a decent amount of the symbolism, just based on what I learned in my classics courses in college and the little bit of occult reading that I’ve done.
    • But I felt sure I could find someone who could put a lot of the pieces together, and I did!
  • I found the website of a Finnish writer, musician, and filmmaker named Aki Cederberg. He visited the estate and had a lot to say about the occult symbolism, so as I talk about the estate, I’m going to summarize some of his points, especially about areas that were closed when we visited. If you want to read his full piece about it, I’ve linked it in the show notes, along with all of my other sources. 
    • First, Cederberg claims that the whole estate is an upside down, or inverted pentagram, based on the shape of the borders of the estate, and how everything in the estate is oriented. In the shownotes, I’ve included a link to a map of the grounds, so you can see for yourselves. I sort of see it?
    • Cederberg got to see some parts of the palace that were closed when we were there, and pointed out that:
      • Monteiro once had a huge esoteric library. It sounds like the books are elsewhere these days, but the library apparently has a black floor with mirrors at the bottoms of the bookshelves, which makes the room look like it’s floating.
      • There’s an alchemical motto about internal purification written on the wall. In latin, it’s abbreviated as VITRIOL: Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Ocultum Lapidem (Veram Medicinam). (Sorry about my bad latin. The English is: Visit the Interior of the Earth, and Rectifying (Purifying), you will find the Hidden Stone (True Medicine)
      • There’s also a quote from Henrique José de Souza who was an occultist, though I couldn’t find any info about him in English. The quote translates as: “Lead me from illusion to reality, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.”
    • The chapel was also closed when we were there–we were able to look in from the doorway, but not go inside. But  Cederberg had some really interesting thoughts on that too:
    • He notes that the chapel is built to represent the Axis Mundi, which is the cosmic pillar or world tree, because it has three floors (one underground, one on the ground level, and one above the ground.) So they represent the underworld, earth, and heaven.
      • To get into the chapel’s lowest level, the crypt, you have to go through a metal gate with a “spiral-horned animal creature along with a prominent pentagram and two sunwheels”
      • A sunwheel, by the way, is an equal-armed cross in a circle. It has a lot of pagan connotations and symbolism, and represents things like the four seasons, the cardinal directions, etc.
        • I guess there’s also a thing called a sunwheel or sonnenrad, which is a neo-nazi symbol. According to the anti-defamation league, those are usually circular symbols with a bunch of crooked rays going out toward the edge of the wheel.
        • The anti-defamation league calls the equal-armed cross with a circle a celtic cross, sun cross, or Odin’s cross, and apparently it’s one of the most well-known white supremacist symbols. It became popular among Norweigan Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s, and now neo-nazis, the KKK, and even organizations like the white supremacist website stormfront use the symbol. I actually hadn’t realized that until I looked it up, though I knew the iron cross was a nazi symbol. But btw, the celtic cross is definitely used by non-nazis, but that’s the version with the elongated vertical part.
      • He notes that the floor’s black-and-white tiles are similar to ones that Freemasons use, and represent dark/light, masculine/feminine, and balance.
      • The altar is carved marble slate with black crosses above and below it. Apparently Monteiro was laid out there after he died in 1920.
      • Also, if you look at the map, it says that there’s a secret passageway that goes from the crypt to the palace. I don’t think it’s open to the public, but it’s pretty cool.
      • Then you go up a spiral staircase and reach the ground floor. On the ceiling above the main entrance is an all-seeing eye set on top of a templar cross (The all-seeing eye has links to Freemasonry, Egyptian and Hindu mythologies. And, sidenote, I saw other eyes in triangles in other churches around Portugal, especially in Porto, so it’s not so unusual.)
      • The area around the main entrance is full of other symbology, too, including a mystic rose, and ark, a grail-like chalice, and a Templar cross. A Templar Cross is just a cross with even arms, a symbol that was used by the Knights Templar.
      • The main floor of the chapel also has a templar cross, with pentagrams and sunwheels around it.
      • On the ground floor’s altar, is an image of Jesus crowning Mary. Mary’s wearing a dark blue cloak, a white head cloth, a red dress, and a gold shroud. All of those colors apparently represent the process of alchemy. 
      • The outside wall of the chapel has a sculpture of an athanor, or an “alchemical oven”
        • I looked it up, and an alchemical oven or furnace was used in alchemical work related to creating a sorcerer’s stone.
        • It looks kinda like a tower, with a fire at the bottom.
        • It supposedly also symbolised the flame of feelings and great love
      • Then, on the upper floor, which you reach by spiral staircase, there’re more Templar crosses and sunwheels.
    • Leaving the church: 
      • Around the estate, there are these large urns or jugs carved from stone, featuring what look like green men (or satyr), surrounded by images of greenery and vines.
    • Leda’s cave:
      • Do you know the story of Leda and the swan? Basically, Leda was the Queen of Sparta, Zeus wanted to sleep with her, she didn’t want to sleep with him, so he turned himself into  a swan and raped her. Some sources, including Cederberg, say it was a seduction, but my understanding was always that it was a rape. 
      • There’s a ton of classical art depicting this, and it’s pretty creepy/screwed up. I think that it was so popular as an art subject because it was more acceptable to show a lady having sex with a swan than with a man. You can google it.
      • So there’s a little cave or grotto with a sculpture depicting the story. When I visited, the cave was closed, but I found a hidden passage that overlooked it, so I saw the sculpture from above.
      • I thought it was just another creepy classical reference to the story, but Cederberg said that Monteiro was a monarchist, and this represented his views of divine kingship, and may also have represented the marriage of heaven and earth.
      • I think the symbolism there is apt–the leaders of countries often screw over the populace–but if Monteiro really thought that the story of Leda and the Swan represented the good and natural order of things, then that’s not great. 
    • Above that cave, if you go up some stairs, you end up at the Regaliera Tower, which is one of several towers that you can climb up into and see a view from the top.
      • Then, if you keep going up, you’ll see entrances to the cave system, including one that feels really magical and enchanted: there’s a pond called “The Lake of the Waterfall,” which has a series of stepping stones, and if you walk across the stepping stones, you can go behind a waterfall and enter the tunnel system.
      • There are also a few other entrances to the system, including The Grotto of the East and the Portal of the Guardians. The Portal of the Guardians is guarded by dragons, or maybe crocodiles, holding a seashell to their ear. Cederberg calls them crocodiles, and says that they’re symbolic because they’re dual water creatures, which appear elsewhere in the estate, as well.
    • Cederberg notes that the bottom of the estate is more human (with the house, statues of gods, chapel, etc), while the top is way wilder (with grottos, wells, woods.)
    • So this leads up to the main event of the estate, the Well of Initiation.
    • Well of Initiation:
    • It’s called a well, but it was never used for water.
      • It’s really more of an inverted tower, where you can walk up, or descend down, via a spiral staircase set into the walls and framed by arches. It’s 90 feet deep. Cederberg counted the steps: There are 139 steps, and 1+3+9 is 13, which he says is a sacred number that represents death and rebirth, or the end of a an initiatory journey. He also points out that there are 22 empty niches in the walls between the staircase and the open area in the middle, which is a sacred number and which recalls the 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot.
      • The floor, at the very bottom, is an 8-point compass rose, made of blue, yellow, red, and white marble.
      • If the whole estate is a journey toward initiation, this is where the initiation happens.
      • At the very bottom, there’s a baptismal font. After that, now that you’re underground, you’re surrounded by dark passages that lead away from the well.
      • We only walked around underground a little, but they’re manmade but look more like caves than tunnels. Apparently they lead to a bunch of different locations around the estate, as well as to dead ends like the unfinished well.
        • You can’t go up into the Unfinished Well from below, but you can start to descend from above. It’s 33 feet, about a third as deep as the initiation well.
      • I went down from the ground level, and it’s extremely creepy. It’s much darker than the initiation well, and it’s much emptier (I didn’t see anyone else while I was descending.) I only went down a few levels, but it felt like a weird, broken twin of the initiation well. Instead of refined arches and columns, there were rough stone openings that I could look out from. Before long, I went back up.
    • He notes that the Yew tree is planted right next to the Initiation well, which is “traditionally associated with both death and immortality” he also notes that “Yew is sacred to Hecate, “lady of the underworld”, who lives in a cave and presides over secret, illuminating rituals. In the Nordic tradition, Yew is sometimes thought of as the World Tree Yggdrasil and is connected to the runes eihwaz and yr.”
    • Of the other trees on the estate, he notes: “Cypress, which has similarly deathly associations, stands by the cave entrance to the crypt of the chapel; while at the side of the upper level of the chapel is lofty Oak, standing for majesty, victory, immortality and fruitfulness, sacred in the various pantheons to the high gods Zeus, Jupiter and Thor. In the upper, rockier and wilder regions of the estate we find Pine, marking steadfastness and loyalty, and sacred to Neptune, Dionysus, Diana, and Cybele. As we see by these examples, the nature of the garden is alive with different personalities and powers, and serve a purpose in unfolding the narrative of the journey.”
    • One thing that was interesting to me was that even though there were TONS of different types of plants in the gardens, the map calls out several varieties specifically, pointing them out the same way that they might point out a well or grotto. The ones they point out are (starting at the lowest part of the estate, and going up): Cypress, Norfolk Island Pine, Oak, Cedar, Magnolia, Camellia, Tree-Ferns, Chestnut, Lime Tree, Horse Chestnut, Cycad, Pine Tree, Sequoia, Yew, and Cork Oak.
    •  Here’s some symbolism related to some of those plants:
      • Camellia: this flower has a bunch of different meanings. For example, tea is sometimes made from Camellia flowers, so it can be used in Tasseography, which is divination using tea leaves. I guess it also has numerological meanings. It’s the number 11, which symbolizes mystical awareness, and has the numerological number of 2, which I think it taken from adding the 1 and 1 in 11. 2 is lunar and magical, and is tied to spiritual growth. 
      • Sequoias, or redwoods, are some of the oldest living beings on the planet. They can live up to about 3,200 years, and they’re the world’s largest trees. So they have a lot of spiritual significance, and they’re also associated with the wands suit in tarot.
      • The lime tree, also called the Linden tree, is significant in many different mythologies. To list a few: They’re sacred trees in Slavic mythology, in Baltic mythology there’s a goddess of fate name Laima, who lived in a line tree and made her decisions as a cuckoo. So Lithuanian women spoke to lime trees as if they were humans, treated them with a lot of respect, prayed under them, etc. To pre-Christian Germanic peoples, the lime tree was holy, and they had judicial meetings beneath lime trees, believing the tree would help unearth the truth.  
      • Cycads and Fern Trees are both really old, and appear in the fossil record, so they’re really ancient trees. I read an interesting article that called Cycads the loneliest plant in the world, and which talked about how in the Jurassic period, 20% of the world’s trees were Cycads.
        • You’ve probably seen pictures of these–they look kinda like short palm trees, with thick, kinda spiky trunks. They survived what killed the dinosaurs and lived through 5 ice ages, until in 1895, a British botanical garden director saw one in Africa, dug it up, and sent it back to England where it was put in the Royal Botanical Gardens in London. I guess the rest of them in Africa died, because later on, researchers looked for another one, and couldn’t find any others.
        • My guess is that British colonizers probably chopped them all down for firewood, or something. The Cycad in London was a male tree and needed a female tree in order to reproduce, but no one’s ever been able to find a female tree. So now there are other Cycads in other gardens, but they’re all clones of this one tree that was found in the 1895.  The original is still alive, but no one knows how long it’ll live.
        • The reason why I’m telling this long story about trees is that I think there’s symbolic meaning there, in something being the last of its kind, and being shared and copied into other places. It feels to me almost like how knowledge, including occult knowledge, works. If you know something, and you die, then your knowledge dies with you. The only way you can keep that knowledge alive is by spreading it, or seeding it elsewhere, for other people to know. The purpose of this estate is initiation, which is the process of giving people secret knowledge. We can assume that when Monteiro was alive, ritual initiation happened there. But even now, going through the gardens is its own initiation. Whether you’re knowledgeable about the occult and classics, or not, it’s impossible to explore the gardens without a sense of wonder, and without questioning what occult purposes this estate was created for.
  • So that’s the estate.
  • The same architect, Manini also built Monteiro’s tomb, in Lisbon’s Prazeres Cemetery. The tomb’s door was opened with the same key that unlocked the palace of Quinta da Regaliera, as well as his palace in Lisbon. When you enter the cemetery grove, the tomb’s on the left, facing east, and it matches the placement, shape, and size of a Masonic temple. The door knocker bears an engraved bee carrying a skull. In Masonry, the diligent and hard-working bee represents the Mason. On the back of the tomb, there’s a gate that shows wine and bread (representing spirit and body), owls (symbolizing wisdom) and poppies (which stand for eternal sleep.)
  • But what happened to the estate in later years?
  • In 1942, the estate was sold to someone named Waldemar d’Orey  and used as a private residence for his large family.
  • In 1987, it was sold to the Japanese Aoki Corporation, a construction company. It’s really unclear what the Aoki Corporation used the estate for. All I could find was that they purchased it, and it was closed to the public for the ten years that they owned it.
  • I was able to find out a bit about the company. They were founded i  the 1940s after the war, and expanded a bunch in the 1980s, ending up with major bank debt. During this time, they branched out into the hotel industry, buying the Westin Hotels chain and selling the Plaza Hotel, which Westin owned, to Donald Trump in 1988. 
  • The company was involved in some shady stuff, including being a member of a a price fixing cartel that was broken up by the Japanese FTC in 1989. As a result, they were banned from getting construction contracts in Osaka. They were also the cause of the second-deadliest construction accident in Hong Kong, when one of their elevators killed 12 workers. The company went bankrupt in 2001, after what sounds like years of decline when the Japanese recession hit 
  • But why did they buy the estate? Did they want to make it into a hotel? If so, why hold onto it for 10 years and do nothing with it? Was it a place for execs to have wild parties? The whole time while I was there, I couldn’t stop thinking about the whole thing would have been a pretty good playground for a bunch of drunk, rich executives and their clients. It had a little bit of a Bohemian Grove vibe. (Sidenote: do you know what Bohemian Grove is? It’s a private campground owned by a “gentlemen’s club,” and a bunch of super rich and famous men have been members and partied there, including Newt Gingrich, William Randolph Hearst, Herbert Hoover, Henry Kissinger, Jack London, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt. There’s been a lot of pretty dark allegations about the place, which we won’t get into here. But basically it’s a big park for powerful men to play in, and there’s some occult symbology, like a huge rock that looks like an owl called the Owl Shrine, that they allegedly do rituals in front of. Allegedly.) 
  • Though I guess we’ll never know what the Aoki Corporation used Quinta da Regaleira for.
  • In 1997, the company sold the estate to the Sintra town council, who opened it to the public in June 1998. It’s now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sintra.

Sources consulted RE: Quinta da Regaleira Symbolism

Websites  RE: Quinta da Regaleira Symbolism

  • map:
    https://www.regaleira.pt/media/1004/folhetoen.pdf
  • https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g189164-d484394-Reviews-Quinta_da_Regaleira-Sintra_Sintra_Municipality_Lisbon_District_Central_Portugal.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant%C3%B3nio_Augusto_Carvalho_Monteiro
  • https://masterhorologer.com/2018/02/15/l-leroy-cie-leroy-01-other-important-historical-watches/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luigi_Manini
  • https://portugalvirtual.pt/sintra/quinta-da-regaleira.php
  • http://www.sintra-portugal.com/Attractions/Quinta-Regaleirais-Sintra.html
  • https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/182187259/ant_nio-augusto-de_carvalho_monteiro
  • https://www.regaleira.pt/en/mapa
  • https://archive.org/details/AntonioAugustoCarvalhoMonteiro-UmNaturalistaPioneiro/mode/2up
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manueline
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aoki_Corporation
  • https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/10/06/quinta-da-regaleira-one-of-the-most-visited-residences-in-sintra-portugal/
  • http://www.barcroft.tv/portugal-initiation-wells-deep-tourist-attraction-lost-time
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemian_Grove
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Bohemian_Club_members
  • https://wiccanrede.org/2019/05/strange-tales-of-aleister-crowley-the-mouth-of-hell-and-the-abbey-of-thelema-part-1/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ninth_Gate
  • https://www.atlaslisboa.com/sintras-myths-legends-and-paranormal-activity/
  • contains a lot of occult symbolism RE: the estate: http://www.akicederberg.com/new-page-1
    https://www.atlaslisboa.com/monserrate/
  • Byron’s poem: https://www.romanticpoets.org/public_html/p5/poems/lb1812_childe_harold_01_portugal.htm
  • https://www.countrylife.co.uk/architecture/quinta-da-regaleira-portugal-mysterious-garden-designed-world-famous-set-designer-architect-173427
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leda_and_the_Swan
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leda_(mythology)
  • https://www.buildingbeautifulsouls.com/symbols-meanings/flower-meanings-symbolism/camellia-meaning-symbolism
  • https://www.buildingbeautifulsouls.com/symbols-meanings/tree-symbolism-meanings/oak-tree-meaning-symbolism/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycad
  • https://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2011/05/10/136029423/the-loneliest-plant-in-the-world
  • https://www.newsgram.com/sequoia-trees-and-spirituality
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequoiadendron_giganteum
  • https://www.buildingbeautifulsouls.com/symbols-meanings/tree-symbolism-meanings/sequoia-tree-meaning-symbolism/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lime_tree_in_culture
  • https://visitsintra.travel/en/visit/monuments/palace-and-quinta-da-regaleira
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laima
  • https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henrique_Jos%C3%A9_de_Souza
  • https://www.ancient-symbols.com/symbols-directory/sun-wheel.html
  • https://www.adl.org/education/references/hate-symbols/sonnenrad
  • https://www.adl.org/education/references/hate-symbols/celtic-cross
  • https://www.ancientpages.com/2018/08/20/12-alchemy-symbols-explained/
  • https://viajeraymochilero.com/en/la-quinta-de-regaleira-sintra-portugal-2/
  • http://www.builtconstructions.in/OnlineMagazine/Bangalore/Pages/Quinta-Da-Regaleira,-Sintra,-Portugal-0076.aspx
  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/toyaguerrero/5661984523
  • https://surviveportugal.blogspot.com/2014/07/quinta-da-regaleira-sintra.html?m=1
  • https://www.ptraveler.com/2014/06/05/mystic-craze-at-quinta-da-regaleira/
  • https://wonderfulwanderings.com/palaces-in-sintra//
  • http://www.estorilportugal.com/features/quinta-da-regaleira/
  • https://allthatsinteresting.com/quinta-da-regaleira
  • http://www.wallswithstories.com/uncategorized/a-remarkable-estate-in-portugal-with-a-romantic-palace-chapel-underground-towers.html
  • https://www.edenflaherty.com/travel-1/2019/7/8/quinta-da-regaleira
  • https://www.spottinghistory.com/view/6098/quinta-da-regaleira/
  • https://www.gardendestinations.com/sintras-quinta-da-regaleira-invites-exploration/
  • http://www.backpacktourist.com/2012/03/quinta-da-regaleira/
  • https://www.castleholic.com/2017/01/quinta-da-regaleira.html?m=1
  • https://www.stolenhistory.org/threads/quinta-da-regaleira-palace-grounds-and-initiation-wells-sintra-portugal.2158/
  • https://paisajelibre.com/jardines-misterio-quinta-da-regaleira/
  • http://different-doors.com/quinta-da-regaleira/
  • https://madhouseheaven.com/mysteries-of-quinta-de-regaleira
  • https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-ancient-places-europe/masonic-initiation-wells-quinta-da-regaleira-002263
  • https://www.travelwithwinny.com/quinta-da-regaleira-sintra/
  • https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/local/blogs/2019/02/23/quinta-da-regaleira-travel-portugal-sintra/2962119002/
  • https://www.atlaslisboa.com/sintras-myths-legends-and-paranormal-activity/

Listen to the of the Ouija board series:

Don’t miss our past episodes:

The Turley Ouija Board Murder: In 1933, a girl shot her father on the orders of a Ouija board. Or was it her former-beauty-queen mother who encouraged the violence?

When playing with a Ouija board with her mother, 14-year-old Mattie Turley receives the message that she must kill her father so her mother can be free to marry a handsome cowboy.

Her mother, Dorothea, who had won a beauty contest in 1916 and had attended the London Academy of Music, had married instead of following her dream of being an actress. Shortly after the family moved to an isolated cabin in the mountains of Arizona, Dorothea began consulting the Ouija board and making strange demands because of it. Was she just manipulating the people around her for her own purposes, or was something more mysterious afoot?

Highlights include:
• The “American Venus” beauty contest
• A manipulative mother
• A stereotypical cowboy
• A Ouija-ordered murder
• Scandal at a girls’ reform school
• America’s creepy salute
• Misandry vs. misogyny

 

Turley Ouija Board Murder

From The Press Democrat, Sunday, Sep 2, 1934

Turley Ouija Board Murder

From The Decatur Daily Review, Sun, Jul 22, 1934

Turley Ouija Board Murder

From The Daily Republican. Thu, Jul 23, 1936

Turley Ouija Board Murder

From The Evening Review. Wed, Sep 23, 1936

 

 

Episode Script for Kill Daddy: The Turley Ouija Board Murder (Ouija Boards Part 9)

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

BACK in the year 1917, Dorothea Irene Kelynack’s pretty little head contained no thoughts of Ouija boards – nor, possibly, of much else. But that didn’t matter, for Dorothea was only 22, and had just won, over 50,000 girls in a nation-wide contest, the title of “The American Venus.”

-Oakland Tribune, Nov. 14, 1937

 

  • There are a few Ouija board murders I want to talk about, but today I’d like to talk about the Turley murder case.
  • The story starts in March 1916, when  Dorothea Irene Kelynack, from Astoria, New York, is declared  “an exact flesh-and-blood replica of the marble Venus of the Louvre” by the New York Evening World.
    • The article said that Dorothea had “springing, supple lines” and “arresting charm” and a “perfectly modeled, perfectly managed body.”
  • A writeup in the Washington post was accompanied by a photo of her wearing a floor-length, gauzy and very “ruched” strapless dress, and then a table comparing her measurements (height, weight, waist and ankle circumference, etc) to the Venus de Milo and Venuses at Wellesley and Swarthmore.
    • Apparently colleges collected women’s measurements in their scoliosis screenings, so it I guess they found a woman with the “same” measurements of the Venus de Milo and announced her the Venus of that college.
  • Apparently she talked about how she wore a loose corset, and enjoyed drinking wine at dinner and eating candy. She said that it’s important for women to have a career to keep “mentally alert”
  • At the time, she was performing as a singer in NYC. She’d studied at the London Academy of Music, and wanted to be a stage or screen actor. She’d apparently also spent time at colleges in Dublin, Leipzig, Paris, and Berlin.
  • When she was a kid, she was a tomboy. She said:
    • “I believe that the tomboy has a better chance of becoming a Venus than the affected, artificial, repressed child whose one duty in life is to be ‘be a little lady,’”
  • She apparently received hundreds of letters and marriage proposals.
  • In early 1918, she ended up eloping with Ernest Turley, who was in the Navy.
  • In December 1918, while they were living in Boston, they had a daughter, Mattie, and a year or two later, they had a son, David.
  • They moved to California, and then in August 1933 they relocated to Arizona, because Dorothea had asthma and the Arizona air was supposed to be good for her lungs.
  • It sounds like they lived in a fairly rural area, in the White Mountains, near Springerville, Arizona. Their home was a small house that I saw described as a “shack” or as an “ugly rented cabin.” Apparently their only neighbors were cattle ranchers.
  • We don’t have a ton of information about how she felt about it, but based on everything we know about her, I’d be surprised if she was happy. She went from being basically a refined beauty queen in NYC to living in a small house with a military man in Great Depression-era Arizona.
  • Contemporary newspapers said that her husband’s salary wasn’t in keeping with her desire for a lavish lifestyle, etc, but that may just be sexism talking.
  •  So in 1933, Dorothea supposedly started doing two things:
    • Around September, a month after they’d moved to Arizona, she started playing around with a ouija board.
      • While going for a walk, she saw some “picture rocks” or artifacts from prehistoric indigenous people.
      • She asked the Ouija board about the rocks, and it said that gold was buried underneath them.
      • Supposedly she convinced Ernest to do some digging and dynamiting to try to find the gold, but they didn’t find anything.
      • Both Mattie and David later said that while their father was blowing up rocks, their mother was hanging out with a “young cowboy.”
      • This whole episode caused some argument between them, and supposedly they got into a few arguments over the next few months. One article claimed that she screamed at him: “Every time I look at you I want to kill you!”  However, it doesn’t say who reported that he’d said that, and I wonder if the reporter was embellishing for a better story.
    • So the other thing that happened shortly after they moved to Arizona is that Dorothea met a 22-year-old, cowboy named Kent Pearce, the young cowboy who Dorothea had been spending time with.
      • According to contemporary newspaper accounts, he was a “movie-type cowpuncher, big hat, neckerchief, tight pants, bow legs.”
      • I want to read a bit of from an article by Lynn Peril, from 2016, which is linked in the shownotes:
        • Like Dorothea before him, Pearce dreamed of a movie career. Mattie testified that her mother and Pearce frequently drove out of town for late-night petting parties, with 14-year-old Mattie and a friend of Pearce’s in the backseat. Once the foursome stayed out until morning. “I have a hell of a good time on the Mesa,” Dorothea told a neighbor.
      • That’s . . . Really screwed up. And this is around the time when I lose all sympathy for Dorothea.
      • I read one article that almost made it sound like Pearce thought both Dorothea and Mattie were attractive, which was really creepy.
      • Also, just in general, there’s a lot of stuff written about how attractive both Dorothea and Mattie were. For example, here’s an excerpt of a 1937 article talking about the case and describing the mother and daughter using the Ouija board together:
        • Mother and daughter, both strikingly beautiful, they faced each other across a small table. . . .The girl was only fifteen – but in her smooth oval face, tilted upwards, and in the gracious mood of her form, a precocious maturity was evident. Her eyes remained closed, but the eyes of her striking mother were open. They rested sometimes on the board, sometimes on the girl, with a sombre, inscrutable gaze.
      • Also, correction, she was fourteen what that happened (she turned 15 in December 1933).
  • Dorothea supposedly started asking her husband about his life insurance policies (he had two policies worth $5,000 each, which is almost $100K in today’s dollars.)
  • She and Mattie also apparently started questioning Ernest about the range of Mattie’s gun, asking how far away they needed to be to kill a deer.
  • Also, at the same time, Dorothea and Mattie were playing with the Ouija board together, and supposedly the board started saying that Mattie needed to kill her father in order to free her mother. The board told her that she wouldn’t get in trouble if she did it, etc.
    • To me, this is pretty obviously Dorothea manipulating the board and her daughter.
    • The particular session where the board said that Mattie must kill her father was on November 8, 1933.
    • Tthey also used cards to confirm the command. Mattie said:
      • The queen of hearts was to stand for mother, the king for the cowboy she wanted to marry, the ten spot diamond for father and the ace of spades for death. Time and again, the king and queen came up together, and the ten spot and ace were paired. That meant death for daddy.
  • On November 17, 1933, a skunk crawled under the family’s house and started making a lot of noise and stinking up the place. The family couldn’t sleep, and the next day, was David’s birthday. When Dorothea and David were out buying groceries for a special dinner that night, Mattie stayed home with her father to try to help him catch the skunk, at Dorothea’s suggestion.
  • According to a fairly lurid article, supposedly Dorothea and David left Mattie” holding her loaded shotgun and eating an apple.”
  • Ernest went to milk their cow, and she followed him, still holding her loaded gun. Then when he headed back home, Mattie hung behind. Suddenly two shots rang out, and Ernest had been hit. When Ernest turned around, he saw Mattie on her knees holding the gun.
  • Mattie was extremely upset about having hurt him, and rushed over.
  • He assumed it was an accident and admonished her, saying “You should be more careful. Let this be a lesson to you.” before sending her to get help.
  • Dorothea and David were just getting home as Mattie was leaving, and Mattie told them that she’d accidentally shot her father. She explained that she’d tripped, which had made the gun go off.
  • A few hours later, the doctor and some neighbors had come over.
  • Cowboy Kent Pearce supposedly held the lamp as Dorothea took care of Ernest.
  • Mattie was hysterical and people felt bad for her.
  • The cops came and seemed to believe Mattie’s story. But one cop was suspicious, because the bullets had traveled downward in Ernest’s body as if she’d been standing with the gun at her shoulder. If Mattie had been shooting from below, they would have gone upwards.
  • When he brought up his suspicious, Mattie confessed that she had intentionally shot her father because the Ouija board told her to.
  • She testified that:
    • “ I remembered how important it was to Mother for her to marry her handsome cowboy, so I raised the gun quickly again and shot both barrels.”
  • When asked about the Ouija board session, she said she and her mother had used the board together, and the board had spelled out “Daddy must die” and when she asked who was going to kill him, it said “MT” which her mother said meant Mattie Turley.
  • Mattie also said:
    • “I asked Mother if I had to do what the ouija board said, and she told me there was no escaping its command.”
    • She also said: “Mother told me that the ouija board could not be denied and that I would not even be arrested for doing it.”
    • This to me really feels like Dorothea was behind all of this, and her plan went awry as soon as Mattie confessed.
    • Mattie later said that she almost lost her nerve and didn’t shoot, but then when she thought about “how much it would mean” to her mother, she did it.
  • When Dorothea heard about the confession, she flipped out. She said the cops had interrogated Mattie and browbeat her to the point that she would have confessed to anything.
  • Mattie said she wasn’t mistreated; she told the truth because she thought it was the right thing to do.
  • Dorothea maintained that the shooting was accidental.
  • Initially, it seemed like Ernest would survive.
  • It sounds like Mattie didn’t have much of a trial, if it even was a trial–I think it was just a court hearing? On December 22, 1933, she pleaded guilty to an attempted murder charge, and the county attorney reccomended that she be sent to the State School for Girls for 6 years. The attourney seemed somewhat sympathetic, and said that “she is very much broken up over the whole affair.”
    • So that’s what happened. I tried to find out what I could about the state school for girls, which was opened in 1928, but there’s not a lot of information about it, probably because it was only around for about 8 years.
    • The Arizona State School for Girls was in Randolph, Arizona, which is a historically black area that grew as black agricultural workers left Oklahoma and settled in Arizona. We have an image of “Okies” as white farmers, but many were black.
    • It sounds like the school housed girls with mental health issues in addition to girls with criminal pasts.
    • The school closed in 1936.
    • Records from the attorney generals office claim that it was shut down by the state to save money, but I found a dissertation by an intern who worked at a county juvenile court, which was published in 1963, which told a different story:
      • The school was abolished by the legislature in 1935 due to scandal caused by alleged sexual relations between the girls and prisoners from the state prison in Florence who took care of the maintenance work for the school.
    • The girls were moved to a privately run religious institution that I think was affiliated with a convent.
  • I wanted to read another little bit of Lynn Peril’s article:
    • “They thought I wouldn’t take the rap,” [Mattie] said. “But I killed Daddy and I want to pay for it. That’s the only way I can show the world and him how sorry I am.” When she was taken away to begin serving her sentence at the grim-sounding State School for Girls, Dorothea told her, in what Mattie called and cold and sarcastic tone: “I thank you for your cooperation. Be a good girl.”
  • So meanwhile, back in December of 1933, Ernest’s conditioned worsened. He’d started out at a local hospital, but then he was was brought on a US Marines plane to a naval base hospital in San Diego. While in the hospital there, he said “When I’m able I’m going back to Arizona to prosecute my daughter to the full extent of the law for her attempt to murder me.”
  • He died in San Diego on December 26, 1933, a little over a month after he was shot, and four days after Mattie’s hearing.
  • This was a  big problem for Dorothea, because suddenly this was a murder case, and Dorothea was held as an accomplice with $5000 bail.
  •  
  • As for Dorothea, her trial got tons of news coverage and was described as a “worldwide spectacle.” To read a bit from a 1937 Oakland Tribute article that described Dorothea’s trial:
    • Mother and daughter faced each other across a crowded courtroom, and Mattie stuck to her story. Young Pollard Wiltbank, the “apprentice” cowboy, swore that Kent Pearce and Mrs. Turley spent most of their time together, on outings, in each other’s arms. A neighbor woman testified that the accused had said she loved Pearce and wanted to marry him. Pearce, on the stand, denied hopes of marriage – but Mrs. Turley was sent to prison for 20 years.
  • Another article I read said she got 25 years, but at any rate it was a long time.
  • As a reminder, her jury was made up of 12 men, since women weren’t allowed on juries at the time–it sounds like some states started letting them serve in the late 1930s. Supposedly the jury was made up of cowboys and ranchers, which doesn’t seem like a sympathetic audience for a rancher’s murder case.
  • It really sounds like the main evidence against Dorothea was Mattie’s testimony. Mattie said that she’d been directed by the Ouija board to shoot her father so “mother could marry a handsome cowboy.”
  • But to the end, Dorothea insisted that Mattie had shot Ernest accidentally.
  • Apparently Mattie’s brother, David, told her: “Now you’ve done what you wanted to do to her” (meaning his mother) “I hope you’re satisfied.”
    • I haven’t been able to find much else that seemed to accuse Mattie of plotting her mother’s demise, though Lynn Peril’s article says:

Mattie was angry with [her mother and] her father because they “didn’t want her to use rouge or to run about at night with cowpunchers or to cross her legs the way she did or to wear such short dresses.” She tried to pin the blame on her mother, Dorothea said, “because some of the cowboys didn’t like me.”

  • I’m not sure if I understand that logic, but if she was trying to get her mom in trouble, this was kinda a weird way to do it, since she ended up locked up too and she was the one holding the murder weapon. My sense is that this is more a reflection of David’s sorrow at his family being broken up and wanting to not hate his mother. At this point, I think he would have been around 13 or 14.
  • In prison, Dorothea worked at the prison library, I guess because she was so well educated.
  • On May 20, 1935, Dorothea made a plea to the supreme court for her conviction to be overturned.
  • In June 1936, after she’d spent 2 years in prison, the State Supreme Court granted Dorothea was a  new trial.
  •  The judge dismissed the first degree assault charges because the attorney general said that there wasn’t enough evidence to have a second trial. The attorney general had taken on the case because the county attorney, who should have prosecuted, was one of Dorothea’s lawyers for the first trial.
  • So Dorothea was acquitted, and on September 12, 1936, Dorothea walked free.
  • She told reporters that she planned to secure her daughter’s release from the state school and bring her “back East.”
  • David had been sent to live with Dorothea’s mother in Ridgewood, NY (in Queens.) Dorothea said that she and Mattie would go live there with them.
  • But it turns that Mattie didn’t want to go live with her mother. I can’t imagine why . . .
    • She initially refused to see Dorothea, but then saw her and told her that she never wanted to see her again.
  • So, in April 1938, Dorothea sued Thelma Branford Bailey, who’d been the superintendent of the reform school where Mattie had been for $7,500. She claimed that Mattie’s mind had been “poisoned” against her. She didn’t win the lawsuit.
  • Dorothea died in 1973, when she was 78 years old, and it’s unclear what happened to Mattie and David.

 

  • I want to talk a little about some of the gender stuff going on here. Most of my sources for this are historical newspaper sources from the 1930s, though I did look at 3-4 websites as well. While googling, I saw that this case is definitely not very well known, but it’s been used by small sites with gender-related focuses to back up their points.
  • So, first, there’s a “misandry” site that reprinted many of the historical articles, though it didn’t really have any commentary. I think this was just supposed to be a straight-up example of “misandry”
    • What do you think of when you hear the word “misandry”?
    • To me, it’s definitely a tongue-in-cheek term. It’s supposedly a counterpart to misogyny, but of course it’s not misogyny’s opposite, since misogyny has been a major societal force for a long time and it still drives and motivates many people and movements today.
    • Whereas misandry is a term that I’ve heard mostly used by queer women in the context of jokes, but tbh I don’t think I’ve heard someone say it out loud since like 2014 or 2015. The “misandry” blog post that reprinted some of these articles was from 2011.
    • While many homophobic people have called queer women men-haters, in my experience it’s actually straight women who hate men the most, because they have to be with them. Like how many murder cases are there of queer women killing men, and how many murders cases are there of wives murdering their husbands?
  • So then on the other side of things, I accidentally clicked into a mens rights activist site that had a write-up of the case as an example of how men have been historically marginalized, etc. I didn’t read it very closely because it’s just an example of someone trolling through history, finding one of the rarer cases of domestic violence driven by a wife rather than a husband, and trying to use it as an argument that white men are a traditionally marginalized group, which is ridiculous.
    • Though to be clear, domestic violence can be perpetuated by people of any gender, toward partners of any gender, but if we’re looking at the wide view of history, I think we can probably agree that white men are generally not a marginalized group.
  • But my point in bringing up these two examples is that there’s a reason why people on both feminist and misogynist camps bring up this article: it’s because it’s really easy to profile Dorothea as a petty, materialistic woman who wasn’t being kept in the custom she was used to and who wanted luxury, adoration, and a hot young boyfriend. And she was willing to tear up her family to get it.
  • It’s extremely hard for me to sympathize with Dorothea, because I believe Mattie’s testimony over Dorothea’s, and it’s so screwed up to use your own 14-year-old child as a murder vicitim.
  • I think we can probably agree that Dorothea is a bully who just happened to underestimate her daughter’s conscience, and who maybe thought she’d used the Ouija board to scare her daughter into obeying her.
  • But while reading these articles, I couldn’t help wondering what her marriage was really like. The articles all depicted Ernest as a hard-working vicitim who was just trying to give his family, in particular his wife, a good life. And that may be true. Maybe Dorothea was just a scheming, evil wife. But they lived in a really remote location, and the press was really prejudiced back then, just like it is now, so who knows? Maybe Dorothea was driven into the arms of a younger man because her husband was cruel?
  • We’ll never know, but I think it’s important for us to remember that in this story, as in any story in history, we’re really only getting one side of the story. And in this case, the story is Mattie’s, which is the side that happens to match the story that the press and courts wanted to be true.
  • One of my sources, the December 22, 1933, edition of The Monroe News-Star from Monroe, Louisiana, printed a huge article that takes up the whole top part of the page, called Do Good Wives Go On Strike? on page 2, above the continuation of the Turley murder case story that had started on the front page.
    • The article was a syndicated article, so it wasn’t written by someone in Monroe, it was acquired through a newspaper service like many historical articles that I see are.
    • The author of the article was Kathleen Norris, a popular novelist and newspaper writer who was one of the highest-read and highest-paid female writers of her time. She wrote 93 novels, and a lot of them were bestsellers.
      • According to Wikipedia, “Norris used her fiction to promote family and moralistic values, such as the sanctity of marriage, the nobility of motherhood, and the importance of service to others.”
      • One digression RE: Kathleen Norris that is interesting enough to talk about is that there’s a picture of her in 1941 at an “America First Committee” rally at Madison Square Garden giving what looks like a Nazi salute (picture linked in the shownotes). She was one of the big four organizers of the America First Committee.
        • The America First Committee was formed in 1940 as an anti-interventionist group that opposed America’s entry into WWII.
        • From the beginning, it had pretty mixed messages. Initially it was just about not intervening, but pretty quickly, it attracted antisemetic and pro-fascist leaders. It dissolved in December 1921, after Pearl Harbor, but at its height, it had 800,000 members and was one of the largest anti-war groups in US history. Modern-day right-wing people like Pat Buchanan (and later on, the Trump administration) adopted the “America First” slogan from this group.
        • Famed aviator Charles Lindberg was a member, and a prominent anti-war activist, who was really admired in 1930s Germany, so much so that in 1937, he was invited to tour the German air force, or Luftwaffee, as it ramped up. Though he was still publicly anti-war, after his trip, he advised the US Army that the US had fallen far behind and needed to beef up its air corps. Lindberg was widely viewed of anti-Semitic because of some of the anti-war speeches he continued to give, even after his visit to Germany.
        • Children’s book author Dr. Seuss actually created about 400 political cartoons for a New York tabloid called PM, and many of those cartoons were focused on criticizing the America First movement and saying that the group was pro-Nazi. There’s one from October 1941 that shows a woman wearing a sweater that says “America First” reading a book called Adolf the Wolf to two upset-looking children. She says “. . . And the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out those bones . . . But those were Foreign Children and it really didn’t matter.” (Though to be clear, he also published some cartoons that advocated the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps so not all of his advocacy was good. I guess he later regret it and wrote Horton Hears a Who as a book about how Americans’ occupation of Japan, and it was supposed to be an allegory and apology.)
        • So anyway, back to Kathleen Norris:  What was this salute that Kathleen Norris gave at the America First Committee Rally? It was supposedly something called the Bellamy salute, which was popularized in the United States in 1892, and to me at least, it’s practically indistinguishable from the Nazi salute.
        • Sidenote, the Bellamy salute was supposed to be a palm up salute, but all the pictures I found from the 19th century shows it as a palm-down salute.
        • In 1920, Italian fascists adopted a similar salute, calling it a Roman salute, and of course the Nazis followed suit in 1923.
        • The Bellamy salute became controversial, though groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution argued that America should keep its Bellamy salute.
        • People said that interventionists took pictures of anti-interventionists doing the Bellamy salute to make them look like Nazis, though I think it’s really fair to ask why they continued doing the Bellamy salute even in the early 1940s, 20 years after the Nazis had started using it, and when some Americans had started condemning it as being too close to the Nazi salute. It seems really pointed to me that they kept doing it, especially since they could have plausible deniability. The  Bellamy salute was discontinued in 1942.
        • Much like eugenics, it kinda feels like the Bellamy salute was something Americans started, Germans adopted because they thought it was a good idea, and then after Americans joined WWII, Americans had to rewrite history a bit for optics reasons.
        • But you can take a look at the Wikipedia page for the Bellamy salute if you want to see a bunch of American schoolchildren looking like Hitler youth.
        • By the way, when I was reading about the Bellamy salute, I remembered something that I’d totally forgotten. So because I went to public school, every school day from kindergarten through 12th grade started with the American pledge and the Texas pledge, and every classroom had both flags hung up above the blackboard in the front of the room.
        • We were told that we had to stand for the pledge, and the normal way to salute was to put your right hand over your heart. But I remember that there was a second accepted way, where you could hold your right hand straight out, with your palm up and your elbow tucked against your waist.
        • It’s basically the configuration you get if you had your hand on your heart and dropped it. But I wonder if that was a revised version of the Bellamy salute, where they had to change it so it didn’t look like the Nazi salute.
    • So back to the article that Kathleen Norris wrote: it’s a fairly conservative article, underscoring that divorce is bad and women should stand by their man, etc, but the main thrust of the article is that wives should be allowed to have fun things to look forward to, like trips and vacations with the family and with their female friends, to lighten the drudgery of the household work.
    • To read a bit of it:
      • To know that in a few months she is going up to visit her sister in Canada, or that she and Betty are to have the car and ramble away toward the Lakes for three weeks, makes all the home drudgery light, and preserves her in the ridiculous delusion under which she descended years ago; that she got the best man in the world.
    • And then later, the article closes with:
      • The children scramble for books, slam doors, are gone. A fly buzzes in the kitchen; another in the bedroom. The bathroom is all tumbled towels and spilled water; the breakfast table sticky with cups and melting butter; magazines and cigarette ashes are scattered about the sitting room; there is dust everywhere. This is mother’s daily situation. Any woman who has been married nineteen years has faced it alone almost seven thousand times.
    • So even though this article has some a sort of almost feminist veneer if you squint at it, it’s no surprise that the Monroe News-Star was fine with printing it alongside and article about a supposedly evil and unhinged wife. And after all, it contains lines like “It is strange that so many fine men pick superficial, cold, little gold-diggers for wives and so many self-centered men get good women.”

Sources consulted RE: the Turley Ouija Board Murder

Websites  RE: the Turley Ouija Board Murder

  • Kathleen Norris doing the Bellamy salute: https://twitter.com/MoviesSilently/status/1048320703194255360
  • Good picture of Dorothea Turley: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chain12/49670170433/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_United_States_juries
  • https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-dr-seuss-satirized-america-first-decades-donald-trump-made-policy
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathleen_Norris
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bellamy_salute
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_salute
  • https://www.newspapers.com/clip/17889624/dorothea-irene-kelynack-american-venus/
  • https://www.hilobrow.com/2016/08/25/planet-of-peril-7/
  • http://www.city-data.com/forum/phoenix-area/192459-how-do-you-remember-phoenix-stories-851.html
  • https://repository.arizona.edu/bitstream/handle/10150/551304/AZU_TD_BOX224_E9791_1957_88.pdf?sequence=1
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randolph,_Arizona
  • https://repository.arizona.edu/handle/10150/611636
  • https://azmemory.azlibrary.gov/digital/api/collection/statepubs/id/33747/download
  • https://azmemory.azlibrary.gov/digital/collection/agopinions/search/searchterm/state%20school%20for%20girls
  • https://azmemory.azlibrary.gov/digital/collection/agopinions/id/12080
  • https://reallifeishorror.blogspot.com/2015/11/real-life-ouija-board-murders-dorothea.html
  • https://unknownmisandry.blogspot.com/2011/12/donna-turleys-clever-tactic-to-murder.html
  • https://knowledgenuts.com/2013/07/30/the-first-murder-by-ouija-board/
  • https://mysteriousuniverse.org/2017/01/death-from-beyond-bizarre-cases-of-ouija-board-killings/

Historical articles and advertisements RE: the Turley Ouija Board Murder

  • The Monroe News-Star (Monroe, Louisiana) · Fri, Dec 22, 1933 · Page 1-2
  • The Decatur Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois) · Sun, Jul 22, 1934 · Page 32
  • Longview News-Journal (Longview, Texas) · Sun, Dec 24, 1933 · Page 22
  • Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, December 29, 1933, Page A-7, Image 7
  • The Coshocton Tribune (Coshocton, Ohio) · Wed, Dec 27, 1933 · Page 1
  • Corsicana Daily Sun (Corsicana, Texas) · Fri, Dec 22, 1933 · Page 2
  • Pampa Daily News (Pampa, Texas) · Fri, Dec 22, 1933 · Page 1
  • The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) · Sat, Dec 23, 1933 · Page 8
  • The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) · Thu, Dec 28, 1933 · Page 2
  • The Decatur Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois) · Sun, Jul 22, 1934 · Page 32
  • The Paris News (Paris, Texas) · Wed, Jan 31, 1934 · Page 8
  • The Wellington Leader (Wellington, Texas) · Thu, Feb 1, 1934 · Page 12
  • The Daily Capital News (Jefferson City, Missouri) · Thu, Jun 14, 1934 · Page 10
  • The Marshall News Messenger (Marshall, Texas) · Mon, Jun 11, 1934 · Page 8
  • Stockton Independent (Stockton, California) · Sun, Jun 10, 1934 · Page 13
  • The Pasadena Post (Pasadena, California) · Mon, Jun 11, 1934 · Page 2
  • Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, July 08, 1934,Page B-3, Image 19
  • The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California) · Sun, Sep 2, 1934 · Page 7
  • The San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) · Tue, Apr 30, 1935 · Page 13
  • The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) · Wed, Jul 1, 1936 · Page 10
  • The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California) · Tue, Jun 30, 1936 · Page 1
  • The Daily Republican (Monongahela, Pennsylvania) · Thu, Jul 23, 1936 · Page 4
  • The Evening Review (East Liverpool, Ohio) · Wed, Sep 23, 1936 · Page 5
  • The Whittier News (Whittier, California) · Sat, Sep 12, 1936 · Page 1
  • The Anniston Star (Anniston, Alabama) · Sat, Feb 6, 1937 · Page 2
  • Mrs Turley Files Suit for 7500-Evening star., April 20, 1938, Page A-5, Image 5
  • The Whittier News (Whittier, California) · Sat, Apr 21, 1934 · Page 5
  • The Gallup Independent (Gallup, New Mexico) · Fri, Jun 1, 1934 · Page 6

Check out the shownotes for the rest of the series to see all of the sources used.

Listen to the rest of the Ouija board series:

Don’t miss our past episodes:

We take a look at more 1920s Ouija board stories, including more tales of Ouijamania.

Highlights include:
• The ghost of Marie Antoinette
• A supposedly Ouija-crazed cop who hijacked a car at gunpoint and proceeded to disrobe
• A doomed treasure hunter
• Queerness in 1920s San Francisco
• The ghosts who haunted European aristocrats
• Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany

 

 

Episode Script for More 1920s Ouija Board Stories (Ouija Boards Part 8)

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • So I wanted to keep talking about what we left off on last week, RE: Ouija boards causing insanity.
  • One thing I wanted to mention is that in 1920, the story of Ouijamania really made it all around the globe. I was curious, so I searched in a database of historical African newspapers and found a number of mentions of Ouija boards, including a little write-up in The Bulawayo Chronicle in Zimbabwe in October 1920. I wanted to read a bit from it:
    • There is a revival of playing with the little instrument called “the planchette” in this country. It has taken such a firm hold of some women that they are playing morning, noon and night. In New York, where the planchette is known as ouija, the craze has been raging with great virulence for some time. Some inbalanced women have been driven out of what little minds they had by it. In fact, there have been serious proposals to make the game–or pastime, or pursuit, or whatever it is–illegal.
  • It sounds like in California, people were especially vigilant about ouijamania. And men weren’t totally immune: I found a San Francisco Examiner article called “Ouija Board Blamed for Mental Trouble.” from Mar 20, 1920 that talks about how police claimed that a ouija board had caused a man’s “strange mental condition.” The cops brought him to a detention hospital where it said that his sanity would be examined. They don’t go into detail about what seemed to cause the trouble, it just said:
  • He is said by his neighbors to have been acting strangely lately and to have spent much time with the ouija board.
  • Again, we’re seeing flimsy reasons for people being arrested and sent away for being supposedly insane.

 

“Ouija Board Drives Policeman to Street Naked.” The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Sat, Mar 6, 1920 · Page 13

  • There’s a front page, above the fold headline that takes up the whole top of the newspaper, about a cop named Elmer H. Dean who “was taken from the crowded streets of Oakland yesterday scantily dressed and in an apparently unbalanced state of mind because of ouija board, he said, had sent him to Berkeley in search of some mysterious enemy.
  • He was initially arrested in Oakland, sent a sanatorium there for observation, but then escaped, climbed onto the running board of a nearby car, and told the driver to take him to Berkeley.
  • Somehow, he’d gotten ahold of a revolver, and he kept it trained on the driver so the driver would take him where he wanted to go. He also started to undress–it sounded like he was inside at that point.
  • Then, he leapt out of the car, realized he wasn’t wearing much clothes, and hid in a bank.
  • He took refuge in a Dr. C. H. Walsworth’s office, and Dr. Walsworth called the cops, who came up a blanket and brought Dean to the hospital.
  • I guess Dean had told a coworker that he’d gotten a bunch of information from a ouija board, which told him to capture this unknown enemy.
  • There’re actually three articles, all next to each other on this page. We already talked about one of the others, about the El Cerrito case, but there’s another article called “Ouija said to Hasten Insanity” that quotes different prominent mental health professionals
  • Dr. Leonard Stocking, of Agnew State Hospital, said:

○ I would give it as my opinion that no well-balanced person would become insane from consulting the ouija board. Such persons as do become insane do not have a strong mentality.

  • Dr. R. L. Richards, of Ukiah State Hospital, said:
  • From a point of mental hygiene, the ouija board could not cause insanity. . . . Persons who do not have a strong mentality are as likely to go insane by the intent concentration of their mind on anything else as they are by concentrating it on the ouija board.

○ So, just a reminder: “Mental hygiene” is a eugenics term, much like “racial hygiene”

  • The San Francisco Lunacy Commissioner said:

○ We have had many commitments to State Asylums during the past few months on account of the ouija board. . . . It attracts a certain mold of mind and unfortunately many mental upsets are the result.

  • Dr. D. D. Lustig, a San Francisco Lunacy Commissioner said:

○ Without knowing the character of the person affected it would be difficult to make an authoritative diagnosis. The superstitious mind is naturally the more easily influenced. With certain nationalities superstition is rife and it is generally this class that fall victims to such as the ouija board.

  • Dr. Theodore Rethers, another San Francisco Lunacy Commissioner, said:

○ I do not say that the Ouija board per se would cause insanity but if a person’s power of resistance is weak it might have a tendency to encourage it.

  • So all of these influential doctors have a real eugenicist vibe.

 

So I started wondering, while reading the reports of men affected by Ouijamania in the Bay Area, why that might be. I have some thoughts–calling it a theory might be too strong of a word, because I just started thinking about this yesterday–but as I was reading about this, I wondered how gay SF was in 1920.

  • The reason why I wondered that is that I wondered if the knowledge that there were gay men in San Francisco might have caused people to be more suspicious of men in SF than in other places. And even if we’re talking about the cases here: in El Cerrito, the men, who were Italian and it sounds like all or mostly married, were let off the hook, whereas the wives got sent off to institutions.
  • However, the cop from Oakland and San Francisco man both seemed to be unmarried.

○ The article about the cop from Oakland quoted his sister about his whereabouts, and she mentioned that he’d slept over in Berkley with their aunt. I think if they were going to mention two female relatives, they would have mentioned his wife if he had one, as well.

○ There’s very little information about the man in SF, but it mentions that his neighbors noticed he was acting strangely. Again, I think the reporter would have spoken with his wife if he had one.

  • I’m definitely not implying that all unmarried men in SF in 1920 were gay. But I do think that unmarried men had the potential for people to regard them with more suspicion. That would have been compounded in the case of the cop, who was also undressing in public.
  • And remember, around this time, gay people were routinely sent to insane asylums.
  • Obviously I know that queer culture was huge in 1920s NYC, but I of course know far less about SF.
  • So I looked it up and learned that apparently, there was a gay community in SF in the 1920s. The first well-known gay bar in SF, called The Dash, opened in 1908.
  • Some people say that this was partially because during WWI, it was common for the US Navy to issue something called a “blue discharge” to anyone on their ships who were found to be gay. The discharge was printed on blue paper, so it was also called a blue ticket.
  • I found an article from October 1945 that had some good info about blue discharges–it was printed in the Pittsburg Courier, a black newspaper that spoke out against blue discharges since it was a way to strip soldiers, particularly black soldiers, of their GI bill benefits. In many cases, it sounds like black people were strongly pressured into signing blue discharge papers, often by subjecting soldiers to extreme racism–basically bullying them into accepting a discharge.
    • To read a bit from the description of blue discharge from that article:
      • These regulations set forward as reasons for discharge under the blue certificate, debatable issues that run all the way from “habits or traits of character which serve to render his retention in the service undesirable” to the highly questionable charge of “enuresis” bed wetting. Inaptness and homo-sexuality are also reasons for discharge under the blue certificate. An examination of those falling under these reasons shows that the “unfortunates” of the Nation, as well as the Army, are the ones who are being preyed upon by the blue discharge.
  • Gay people were supposed to be court martialed and dishonorably discharged, but that was too much administrative hassle.
  • Basically, it was just a type of administrative discharge that a commander could use to get someone off their ship and out of the Navy. It sounds like it was originally given to religious contentious objectors in WWI (I found newspaper articles about that) and then it may have been quietly given to queer people. San Francisco was a major port city, so it was easy to drop off gay people who’d been discharged there. And so the gay population grew.
  • I found that kinda funny and charming. But because of who I am as a person, I unfortunately have to rain on the parade.
  • So the blue discharge was mostly used against gay and black people. To be totally clear: It was a discriminatory discharge designed to kick undesirable people like gay and black people out of the military.
  • If you got a blue discharge, you were subject to a lot of discrimination. You also weren’t eligible for GI bill benefits, and it was hard to get any kind of job, because employers knew what a blue discharge meant.
  • The blue discharge was a thing from 1916-1947, when it was finally phased out, in large part because of criticism from black newspapers.

 

“Ouija to be Banned from Sacramento.” The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Tue, Mar 9, 1920 · Page 4

  • This article begins:
  • Ouija board seances, which have been reported in society circles of Sacramento, will be promptly broken up by a special squad of police. . . . Persistent use of the “future boards” will result in immediate arrests.

 

As we touched on last week, prohibition started in January 1920–I was seeing PSA ads for it in newspapers. So people were both on edge and used to calls to forbid things.

  • I found an article from February 28, 1920 “Ouija Boards to Amuse Guests in NY Hotel.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon, Illinois) that talked about how a hotel has opened a game room and would be offering its guests Ouija boards as entertainment, because “hotel managers say they find it difficult to amuse their patrons now that there is a dearth of cabarets and refreshing liquids.”

 

“Weird Ouija Board Rites Are Fertile Source of Mania.” The Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana) · Mon, Mar 29, 1920 · Page 1

  • To read from it:
  • Alienists and metaphysicians are united in the opinion that today the ouija board is one of the greatest contributing factors in the filling of insane asylums in this country. . . . Ouija board mania is not foreign to the Montana state asylum at Warm Springs. A considerable number of women patients at the institution are suffering from this peculiar form of mental aberration. At least three Billings women have suffered loss of reason from ouija board manipulation, all within the last few months. . . .
  • Then it tells a few specific stories:
  • One Billings woman purchased an ouija board during the last Christmas holidays. Four days later she was adjudged insane and was taken to an asylum.
  • It doesn’t go into any detail about how, in four days, this woman could have been driven so insane by the ouija board that she was immediately packed off to an asylum. Sounds almost like an excuse from a husband who wanted to get rid of her? Though without more detail, it’s hard to say.
  • They talk about another woman who started taking the Ouija board seriously and who is “still confined in an institution for the mentally deranged, showing little progress toward recovery of reason.”
  • MAKE COLD OPEN The article quotes a student of psychology and metaphysics who says that because of the war:
  • “Mental processes have become distorted. Abnormality frequently rules. So many instances have been given of seemingly simple methods of communication with departed spirits, such as the ouija board, that people are placing undue reliance upon them with the result that in many seemingly normal human being though processes are becoming distorted. Neurasthenia is becoming frequent. People brood and gain unwholesome sensations. The emotional element steps to the front. As a general rule the ouija board leads to distress, not pleasure. . . . Unnatural frames of mind are fostered, and the result frequently is morbid mania, and even sheer insanity in some of the worst cases.”
  • Then there’s another story:
  • A recent news dispatch tells of a treasure seeker who believed a qualtity of gold was buried near his house. He consulted an ouija board and from it secured a “tip” telling him where to dig. In his haste to secure the buried treasure he neglected to take due precaution and the roof of the tunnel caved in, suffocating him.
  • Then the reporter talks to a local sales clerk, who says that most of the people buying Ouija boards are women, but the few male customers that they do get usually come in early in the morning.
  • It also talked about a cop in Oakland, CA, who was institutionalized because of Ouijamania–a rare case of it affecting a man.
  • And then it also mentioned a man who’d done some bad things in Alaska that no one knew about, but felt guilty, consulted a ouija board, and went insane:
  • As a result of manipulating the ouija, he became irritable, depressed, worried and finally his mental processes became so distorted that he was examined by a sanity commission and adjudged insane. He now occupies a ward in the Oregon insane asylum.
  • I do like the closing of this article, which has a theory for why ouija was so popular:
  • Some people seem to think that humanity must have an outlet for their exuberant spirits. Deny them liquor or other methods for intoxication and they promptly indulge in spiritual or ouija board jags. The jazzy life of today seems to demand some means of expression, but from the evidence the ouija board apparently exacts a toll altogether out of proportion to the questionable benefits it confers.

 

“Doctor Tells Ouija Board Secret Works.” Escanaba Morning Press (Escanaba, Michigan) · Wed, Jun 23, 1920 · Page 2

  • This article is about a doctor who studied the Ouija board and how it works, and determined that it comes from subconcious memory.
  • The doctor talks about a woman who grew up wealthy, but whose father died and left her in poverty. There was an old painting in the family that was supposedly worth a lot of money. So to quote from the article:

○ “One day this woman, who lived in Minneapolis, was playing with a ouija board and was told to make herself passive. While in a trance she met Marie Antoinette, who told her that the picture was very valuable.”

  • When she came out of the trance, she asked the board how to restore the painting, and it gave her a man’s name. When she called the hotel where the board said he lived, they said that the man had died 8 months before.
  • She then made contact with the man through the board, which told her how to restore the painting herself.
  • So the doctor said that it turns out that she’d seen the artist’s name in a newspaper, and all of the other details the board told her it turns out had been things she’d been exposed to.
  • The doctor concluded:

○ “She was poor and had been rich. She rebelled against conditions; was unhappy to the last degree and had contemplated suicide. The other side of herself saw a solution. She wanted to become a great prophetess and the prospect of becoming one made her supremely happy.”

  • The article doesn’t offer any theories on why she saw Marie Antoinette. But it’s interesting that in both this June 1920 article and in the February 2020 article, there were mentions of Marie Antoinette.

On top of all of that, Sir Oliver Lodge came to America for a speaking tour in January 2020. I found TONS of articles that mentioned him. Though, interestingly, tons of articles talk about how he said negative things about the ouija board.

But I did find one mention of him discussing the Ouija board that wasn’t totally skeptical:

“Sir Oliver Lodge Talks Here With ‘Spirit’ Via Ouija Board: 20-year-old Winnipeg Girl is Medium Used for Unique Experiment.” The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) · Thu, Apr 29, 1920 · Page 1

  • This was a huge front-page, above-the-fold article, with a headline that spanned pretty much the whole width of the page.
  • It describes Sir Oliver Lodge observing a 20-year-old local woman named Olivia B. Taft, who apparently was very gifted at Ouija. As he observed, she was able to operate the board in such a way that it answered scientific questions that she wouldn’t know.
  • Rememember, we talked about Sir Oliver Lodge a couple weeks ago–he was a physicist as well as a spiritualist.
  • The entity that was supposedly communicating with them claimed to be from “the tenth plane–so far removed from the earth in the process of evolution that he cannot approach very close to material matter, operating through the medium’s mind by mental concentration.
  • They spoke about a number of scientific and spiritual things, and Lodge and the entity disagreed about reincarnation, which “the entity declared . . . Was a necessary fact in the progress of evolution–that man reincarnates in matter until he has learned certain lessons in life after which he reincarnates through the spiritual worlds in a similar process of continuous evolution.”
  • It sounds like through all of Oliva B. Taft’s conversations with this entity have revealed that the entity seems to be Christian, and “vigorously upholds the highest teachings of Christ.” Though “at the same time he severely rebukes those who cramp themselves within the narrow confines of orthodox beliefs. When dealing with religious subjects, the language at times reaches sublime heights of eloquence.”
  • Sir Oliver Lodge seemed to enjoy the conversation but wasn’t prepared to say whether this entity was real or not without further investigation, though he said that he didn’t think that Olivia B. Taft was faking.

 

 

There were a ton of reasons why Ouija was in the headlines in 1920. For example, in 1920, the court finally decided on the Fuld brothers court case and ruled that William Fuld was the rightful manufacturer of the Ouija board, so that case made headlines.

 

  • And there are definitely a lot of silly articles from this period, though there’s always some dark social statement underneath. I found one called “Give these Ghosts a Job.” The Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas) · Tue, Mar 23, 1920 that basically just details European ghosts.

○ The article begins:

  • In these after the war days, when apparently there is such an interest in anything that tends to the occult, when factories are not able to turn out ouija boards and doodle sticks sufficiently to meet the demand, why not call on the ghosts of Europe that have been out of work since the big battles have ended?

○ S then it talks about some of the ghosts who haunted European artistocracy, like a ghost called the White Lady of Potsdam who supposely appeared to the Kaiser on the eve of his father’s death and told him what would happen. (Which I assume means warned him about WWI.) I haven’t been able to find info about that story specifically, but of course there have been many women in white ghosts in folklore.

○ I guess there was also a Green Lady ghost that haunted the Austrian royal family, who had disappeared since there was no longer an Austrian royal family.

○ Apparently the ghost of Catherine the Great haunted the Russian court as well, and according to the article “almost all families of note in Europe had one or two.”

○ The article closes with:

  • The theory is that these ghosts could help us in our mad mania to probe occultism and, by employing them, it would furnish some money to be used in the rebuilding of Europe.

○ This is a very silly article, but I think the writer’s saying that occultists could pay European ghosts wages for showing up during seances, and those ghosts could give that money to their home countries to rebuild?

○ So that’s almost funny, until you realize how insenstive it is. It’s kinda a sore winner sort of article, considering how much the German people suffered after WWI. (The Germans weren’t the only Europeans who suffered post WWI, but I’m most familiar with Weimar Germany so I’m using them as an example.)

  • I think most people have heard about how hyperinflation hit Germany hard in the early 1920s.
  • To be fair, I think things got really bad starting in 1921 but things were still not great great in 1920. For example, in 1914, the exchange rate of German marks to USD was 4.2:1. In 1923, it was 4.2 trillion marks to one USD. In January 1923, a loaf of break cost 250 marks, and by November, a loaf of bread cost 200 trillion marks.
  • There are some wild stories that came from that period:

□ Waiters had to climb onto tables to announce new prices on menus every half hour

□ People bought wheelbarrows, sacks, and suitcases to work to get their wages. In one case, a worker’s suitcase was stolen, though the thief dumped out the money and left it behind, since it was basically worthless.

  • It was a really traumatic time for the German people, and pretty predictably led to fascism, as these types of things often do. 1923 was when the Beer Hall Putsch, when Hitler and the Nazi party tried to overthrow the government, happened.

○ So this is a pretty screwed up article, I think, and it shows you more about the types of people who were writing newspaper articles, and the types of things people apparently wanted to read, in 1920.

Sources consulted in researching 1920s Ouija Board Stories

For additional sources used for this episode, check out 1920s Ouijamania (Ouija Boards Part 7)

Historical articles and advertisements RE: 1920s Ouija Board Stories

  • “Ouija Boards to Amuse Guests in NY Hotel.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon, Illinois) · Sat, Feb 28, 1920 · Page 1
  • Los Angeles Evening Express (Los Angeles, California) · Sat, Feb 28, 1920 · Page 2
  • Leavenworth Post (Leavenworth, Kansas.) Monday, January 27, 1919
  • Courier Launches Probe of Army’s Blue Discharges. The Pittsburg Courier. Saturday, October 20, 1945
  • Buluwayo Chronicle (published as The Bulawayo Chronicle Weekly Edition.) October 23, 1920.

Check out the shownotes for the rest of the series to see all of the sources used.

Listen to the rest of the Ouija board series:

Don’t miss our past episodes:

We take a look at “Ouijamania” in the 1920s, relating the panic over Ouija boards to big movements in the year 1920, including womens suffrage, prohibition, and, unfortunately, eugenics.

Ouijamania is the phenomenon where people, usually women, supposedly went crazy because of their Ouija board use, usually resulting in their institutionalization.

Highlights include:
• Occult rituals
• 1920s insane asylums
• Burning money
• The dark side of 1920s feminism

 

Episode Script for 1920s Ouijamania (Ouija Boards Part 7)

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

“Idleness is the sole reason for the existence of this craze. Idle women are the devil’s own specialty. When he contrived the ouija board he certainly knew his business.”

-From an article called “Dementia Ouija,” written by a doctor and published in The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Oct 14, 1920

 

  • Sidenote, I’m now at the point where I’m mostly trying to draw from either primary sources, or resources created by experts like Robert Murch, because MANY articles written by non-expert journalists are riddled with errors. I’m not going to go into it, but I was reading an article from a publication that I don’t particularly like, and probably every few paragraphs there was a glaring error.
  • We’re finally at the Ouijamania episode!! Today, we’ll be looking at Ouijamania stories from 1920 only, with a focus on women and sexism and the Ouija board. There are an unbelievable number of articles about the Ouija board from 1920 alone, which is why we’re focusing on this year.
  • Also, I just want to note that this episode has some discussion of eugenics.
  • I’ve been talking about Ouijamania, but I wanted to actually define it. As far as I can tell, Ouijamania is the phenomenon where people, usually women, go crazy because of their Ouija board use, usually resulting in institutionalization.
  • I found a bunch of articles talking about ouija boards driving women insane.
  • One EXTREMELY OBVIOUS thing that I didn’t really think about until I was basically finishing up my research for this episode is that there was a big, major thing that happened in 1920 that I think informs everything we’re about to talk about here.
  • Do you have any guesses?
  • So we talked a lot about the impact of World War I on ouija. WWI also had some big societal impacts, including forcing women to step up and basically run things while the men were away at war.
  • So women’s suffrage became a huge issue in many countries, some of which allowed women to vote as a recognition of their sacrifices during the war. The US was one of those countries.
  • In May 1919, the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution,  which would grant women the right to vote, was passed by the house. And then it had to be ratified by 36 state legislatures before it would actually be law.
  • For the next year, the amendment went through a ratification process in individual states. By March 1920, 35 states had ratified the amendment, but it wasn’t until August 1920 that  Tennessee ratified the amendment, officially making women’s suffrage the law of the land.
  • It was ratified just in time for women to vote for the first time in the 1920 presidential election.
  • So I can only imagine how heated this debate was for the year and change while the individual states were fighting over whether they should ratify.
  • I think you’re really going to see that underpinning these articles; I ended up reading so many that sympathize with husbands whose wives have just gone crazy because of ouija. But what does crazy mean in this context? They rarely go into detail, and I’m sure that the push for more rights for women must have changed some household interactions. So is it that people think their wives have been seduced by Satan through the Ouija board, or do they just think have anxiety about women becoming harder to control as the battle rages for their right to vote?

 

So I wanted to talk a little about what it was like to be in insane asylum in 1920, and a little bit about insane asylums and women:

  • I think that most people know that in the 19th century, unruly women–wives and daughters who weren’t obedient to their husbands and fathers–were often institutionalized. Women who violated gender norms were also often declared insane.
    • I’ve also read that it as easier to get divorced if you had your wife declared insane.
  • With the prohibition of alcohol, speakeasies were popular in the 1920s, and alcoholism actually increased among women. Kinda ironic.
    • Because people didn’t know what to do with female alcoholics, they institutionalized them. And apparently the State Lunacy Commission in California committed tons of women, whether or not their was any kind of solid evidence of them having actual mental health issues. 
  • From what I’ve read, the 1920s were kinda the edge of a turning point for psychiatric care.
    • Asylums were still very bad, but a lot of “scientific advances” started happening around the 1920s. So, you know doctors were finding new ways to torture and degrade their patients.
  • There’s a really good reddit thread mental health treatment in the 1920s that I’ve linked in the shownotes, and a lot of this info is coming from that.
    • In the US in the 1920s, the state hospital system was still pretty new and there were no national standards for treatment.
      • In California, it sounds like care varied greatly between state hospitals; a redditor describes the hospitals as “fiefdoms” that were totally controlled by the director, which didn’t change until the 1950s.
      • Between 1909 and the early 1950s, the state of California sterilized over 20,000 people in government institutions. This was part of a huge eugenics movement that was popular in the early 20th century, which we’ll talk about later.
      •  There was one hospital where people were sterilized because the director of the hospital though that sterilization cured mental illness. There was another hospital where people were sterilized because the director was a eugenicist. There was another state hospital where the director used hydrotherapy and psychoanalysis, because he was a fan of Freud.
    • One popular 1920s psychiatric treatment was fever therapy.
      • Viennese psychiatrist Julius Wagner-Jauregg found that his patients had improved mental health after getting sick with things like tuberculosis.
      • He felt that high fevers were causing that recovery, so when a soldier who’d gotten malaria during WWI came into his care for shell shock, Dr. Wagner-Jauregg got access to malaria and started infecting his patients with it.
      • The first study was in 1917, and for some reason people seemed to think was a success. 9 patients were given malaria, and six of them recovered enough to get back to work, though four of the six later had relapses.
      • Throughout the 1920s, fever therapy gained a lot of popularity, and though fever therapy had been invented to treat a type of mental illness caused by advanced syphilis, doctors started using it for other mental health issues too.
      • Wagner-Jauregg got the Nobel Prize in 1927. However, by the 1930s, enough patients were dying of malaria (2-13%), that hospitals started to think of other options, like fever therapy machines to heat up patients. Fever therapy was used until around 1940.
    • Some treatments that weren’t yet in use in the 1920s were electroshock, insulin shock, or lobotomy, though they were all used starting in the 1930s.
    • I read that apparently conditions in asylums were especially brutal for schizophrenic patients, and we know that some of the people with “ouijamania” were sent to asylums for schizophrenia.

 

“Ouija Craze Has Struck Wichita. Mystic Boards and Works on Psychic World Are Much Sought in City.” The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, Kansas) · Sun, Jan 4, 1920 · Page 32

  • The article begins:
    • Ranging from the typical flapper to the most profound scientist are those persons who are quickening the interest in the psychic, which has been sweeping Wichita for several months. This information is revealed through the sale of ouija boards and books on spiritism. Sales have increased immeasurably.
  • They talk to the buyer for a local store who says that it was very popular in the Christmas season, and that sales had increased by several hundred percent in the last few months. So this is interesting to me, this idea that it was a fad during the 1919 Christmas season that continued on through the new year.
  • This reminds me a bit of an 1892 article that we looked at a few weeks ago, which bemoaned how Ouija was supposed to just be a Christmas craze in 1891, the first year it was released, but its popularity had continued through to when that article was published in July.
  • To read a bit more from this January 1920 article:
    • The loss of relatives in the war has moved many to seek to get messages from them, another buyer says.
  • The article also mentions how both men and women have been turning to the Ouija board for information, which many people seemed to take as truth.

 

Ouija Boards All the Rage in Akron Thousands Bought. Akron Evening Times (Akron, Ohio) · Sun, Feb 15, 1920 · Page 35

  • This article begins:
    • “You’d better be pretty careful,” gloomed the clerk, “what you say about ouija boards, because everybody buys them now, and they don’t all by them in order to poke fun at them either”
  • The article goes on to say that the clerk works at a store where thousands of ouija boards have been sold from. It references how one local store sold 288 boards in 2 weeks, and mentions that many stores in town are totally sold out. It also remarks that people buy the boards year round, not just at Christmas, which is something many articles mention.
  • The article is very scornful of people buying ouija boards, saying:
    • Ouija is classed as a game for sick people to while away their time with as they would with solitaire. It is regarded by same as a real means of getting in touch with “spirits” and again as one of the laughable frauds to be tolerated until the fad dies away.

 

“Kiss Ouija Goodbye or Become a Moron: Dr. Hickson is Ready for All Who Trust in Board and Spirits, Are Primarily Praecox.” Ironwood Daily Globe (Ironwood, Michigan) · Thu, Feb 12, 1920 · Page 3

  • For anyone wondering, “praecox” refers to an old medical diagnosis called “dementia praecox.”  The term’s since been replaced with “schizophrenia.”
  • I think a lot of people know this, but “moron” is an old medical term for people with “mild intellectual disabilities.”
    • It’s a word that came from the eugenics movement, which happened to be a popular social movement in the 1920s.
    • Most people probably know what eugenics mean, but I wanted to give a quick definition just in case: Basically, eugenics is a ideology that says that some people are inferior and should be removed from the genetics of the human population. And, of course, some people are considered superior. It’s strongly associated with white supremacy.
    • And in 1927, a Supreme Court case called Buck v. Bell ruled that it was legal for states to permit compulsory sterilization of those who were deemed “unfit,” for the supposed protection and health of the state. Many states had eugenics laws, starting in the very beginning of the 20th century, and fading in popularity by the 1960s. The Supreme Court has never overturned this eugenicist ruling. So think about that, anyone worshipping the Supreme Court.
    • The ruling kicked eugenics in the US into full gear. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here, but basically, it was a racist and ableist movement that the Nazis used as inspiration for their own much more famous eugenics programs during WWII, such as their mass murder and mass sterilization programs. The Nazis specifically admired California’s eugenics program as a success story and an inspiration for them when they set up their own sterilization programs. During the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi doctors cited Buck v. Bell in their defense. They  said that there wasn’t much difference between the US eugenics program and the Nazi program.
    • So just as we talked about the rise of the KKK in the 1920s, other racist ideas like eugenics were very popular, and in eugenics case, strongly advocated for by many scientists.
    • I know that I probably come off as fairly anti-science at times, but I think that things like eugenics and other disproven sciences remind us that science is often tied to ideology,  and the ideologies of people in power are often tied to hurting marginalized people and consolidating wealth and power among the elite.
    • Also, one more thing I wanted to mention, eugenic feminism was a thing in the United States. As in, there was a movement of suffragists in the US (and Canada) who advocated for eugenics. The eugenic feminism movement lasted from around the 1890s-1930s.
      • To quote from wikipedia, eugenic feminists:
        • Argued that if women were provided with more rights and equality, the deteriorating characteristics of a race could be avoided. Feminists desired gender equality, and pushed for eugenic law and science to compromise and meet their views in order to breed a superior race.
      • You know, the idea was basically that women were too important to the reproductive process not to include in the fight for better . . . Racial hygiene, mental hygiene, etc.
      • This was a thing in the UK as well, where, a woman named Marie Stopes founded the first birth control center in 1921. Stopes was an ardent eugenicist who sent a book of her poetry called “Love Songs for Young Lovers” to Hitler in 1939, along with a fawning letter saying that she hopes he enjoys the poetry. Literally, the letter opens “Herr Hitler, love is the greatest thing in the world.”
      • And in the US, there was Margaret Sanger, a famous birth control advocate and sex educator who opened the first birth control center in the US, which went on to become Planned Parenthood.
        • She was also pro-eugenics, and she seemed to toe a line where she didn’t say a lot of racist stuff herself, but she looked the other way when the work of racists supported her goals.
        •  She gave a speech in 1921 called “The Morality of Birth Control” where she said that there are “educated and informed people” and “irresponsible and reckless people.” Of the reckless group, she said, and this is unfortunately a quote: “There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped.”
        • So many of the articles about ouija from this period sound so much like how eugenicists talked about people, saying that those who are interested in ouija boards are weak-minded, mentally ill, not intelligent, etc. And sometimes the articles talk wonderingly about why the best sort of people seem to be into ouija boards too.
      • I guess that many white, feminist, female authors in the early twentieth century  were strongly pro-eugenic. Those include Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the author of a famous short story called “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
        • She also wrote a number of eugenicist novels and said a lot of horrible things, some of which I considered quoting here, but decided against. But just know that she was extremely racist, in particular, she was very anti-black. Though she also didn’t like immigrants.
      • So I’m obviously pro-birth control and reproductive rights, and I want to be able to feel good about early women writers and early feminists.
        • But I’m bringing up eugenic feminism because it’s a fusion of so many of the things we’re looking at today: women can be both victims and villains, and bad people can sometimes create good legacies, like Sanger’s legacy of accessible birth control, etc.
        • What I don’t want to do today is paint some kind of story where women, especially white women–and let’s be honest, probably most if not all of the women these articles about ouijamania talk about are likely white–look like a group of uniformly flawless people.
        • History is complicated and thorny and at times, extremely unpleasant.
        • And to be honest, there’s been a big resurgence in eugenics over the last few decades years. I don’t really want to go into it, but I do think it’s important to be aware of the evils in history, especially so you can more easily recognize evil in our own time.
    • And I know I’ve said this a few times, but I’m holding back a lot of information because of how unimaginably awful the history of eugenics in America is. But my sources are linked on buriedsecretspodcast.com so if you do want to know more, they’re a place to start.
  • So to get into the article about ouija making people into “morons.” It starts, like many other articles from the 1920s, with a sentence that makes no sense to me:
    • “You’d better tie a can to your ouija board and kiss your favorite spirit control good-by–unless you want to end up in the psychopathic laboratory struggling desperately to pass the moron test.”
  • What does it mean to tie a can to your ouija board? Idk.
  • But the article features a Dr. Hickson, who’s supposedly the leading psychopatologist in the US. He tells the reporter:
    • “We’ve been getting dozens of spiritualists in here, as well as ouija board fans and séance habitues. They are, of course, praecox cases to begin with before they go in for listening to the ghost rattle the tamboirine and watching him spell out the messages from the other world on the ouija board. If they weren’t they wouldn’t go in for such imbecilities.”
  • Sidenote, “imbecile” is another eugenicist term; it’s the word for someone with an IQ between a “moron” IQ and a “idiot” IQ.
  • The doctor goes on to say a lot of awful things about his patients. And the article closes with:
    • According to the general estimate hundreds of Chicagoans are daily losing their rationality if not their reason over the ouija board and spook craze.
  • So to me, I feel like this article is about dehumanizing people with mental health problems, and demonizing and discrediting Spiritualists and everyone else who gets lumped into them (like housewives who play with Ouija boards, for examples).

 

I found an article called “Ouijamania stirs inhabitants of El Cerrito.” Pasadena Evening Post (Pasadena, California) · Fri, Mar 5, 1920 · Page 6

  • In March, things started to get a little weird in the Bay Area suburb of El Cerrito:
    • “Ouijamania” has frightened the town of El Cerrito to the point where the finger of suspicion is being pointed at every one of its 1200 inhabitants.
    • Following a meeting in the town hall last night, plans were laid whereby alienists will examine whether “ouijamania” has affected their minds.
    • The ouija board will be barred as pernicious.
    • These developments followed the arrest of seven persons and the finding of a sanity inquiriy that four of them were insane. It was established that the ouija board’s mystic influence had tainted the minds of four women. The men were released. The women were committed to insane asylums.
    • At the hearing the mere mention of the Ouija board set the women to talking wildly.
  • This article just hints at what supposedly happened, but I found a report from May 1920 that elaborates more:

 

“Ouija Driving Women Mad: New Mania Due to Occult Overindulgence Claims Many Victims.” The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro, Kentucky) · Sun, May 16, 1920 · Page 22

  • Quote:

○ Town authorities have given instructions for a general probe by specialists of what amounts to an epidemic of weird psychic parties.

  • According to the newspaper, four women were arrested and put into the state hospital. The article claims that “police had broken in barred doors, found the occupants in a state of trance and gibbering about dictates from the “unseen” which they had followed out through strange rites. Day and night the women had hovered over the Ouija board. On two occasions, at least, twenty-four hour sittings had been held.”
  • Apparently, five children were found in the home (the youngest were two years old); their heads had been shaved to “drive away evil spirits.” Neighbors claimed that their children had been lured into the house.
  • To read a little more from the article:

○ Adeline Battini, a handsome girl of 15, seemed to have acted as high priestess in the spiritual orgies. It was she who profressed to have received most of the messages after she had introduced the Ouija to her family and friends. When the officers arrived and sought entrance, they were told that a “passion play” was in progress, and that the dead husband of one of the women was present and would kill any intruder. . . . Over $700 in bills had been burned . . . To appease the malicious spirits, and for the same reason most of the women’s clothing has been destroyed.

  • So for reference, $700 in 1920 is almost $9,000 today.
  • So the article continues:

○ Following these arrests, other cases quickly came to light. The Ouija and Planchette boards, twin implements in the recently greatly accelerated movement to penetrate the beyond, have sold in great number in El Cerrito. As in other American communities so took its ‘messages’ in a spirit of fun, but an unusual number accepted them seriously. They featured the backyard and parlor gossip of the town, especially among Italians.

  • Then it talks about how a cop in Oakland had been sent to the hospital with Ouijamania.
  • It also had a quote from the California Lunacy commission:

○ “We have had many commitments to state asylums during the past few months on account of the Ouija board. These persons who have been adjudged insane by the commission might have shown insanity by other means, but the Ouija board at present occupies a prime place in demonstrating insanity.

○ “It is a fact that since the war the people generally have gone into spiritualistic things and certain individuals have become demented on this account.”

  • Hey, do we think that people became demented because of the Ouija board, or because of the extremely traumatic war and then the epidemic that had followed?
    • I read in a different article that the husband and daughter of one of the women had been killed a few weeks before in a car accident, and they’d started using the ouija board because she wanted to talk to them
  • This case is really interesting to me, because it makes me think of the 1980s Satanic Panic, which also involved weird rituals with young children, but which of course was completely made up. It makes me wonder how much of this was made up.

 

 

  •  An article in the San Francisco Examiner called “Ouija Board Burned; Victims in Asylums,” talks about the case of the women in El Cerrito.  The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Sat, Mar 6, 1920 · Page 13
  • It says that the ouija board has been burned by a man named Carlo Soldavini. It turns out that the women involved in that case had been his wife, her mother and sister, and niece.
  • All of the women were committed to asylums, though the men who’d been involved–Carlo Soldavini and Luigi and Vico Ferraro–were all released.
  • Two of the women were committed to Stockton, one of the hospitals that apparently sterilized all people of childbearing age upon their release, and then two of the women were committed to Napa Hospital, which apparently sterilized about one patient per week.
  • To quote from the article:
    • The State Hospital authorities diagnose their cases as hysteria and say they will eventually recover.

 

 

On Mar 16, 1920, the Santa Ana Register publishes an article called “Plans to Stop Ouija Board Sales Here” elaborates on the actions that the government is taking in response to this story.

  • It begins:
    • Discovery of many cases of “ouijamania” in the town of EL Cerrito near here, may result in barring the ouija board from the entire state of California.
    • State Senator Will R. Sharkey has announced he will sponsor a bill in the next session of the legislature to prohibit sale of ouija boards in the state, just as many states prohibit punch boards.
  • And I know you’re wondering: what’s a punch board?
    • It’s basically a single-use game board that was used for gambling.
    • They were kind of like lottery tickets. (They sound kinda like scratch-off lottery tickets to me.)
    • Apparently between 1910 and 1915, about 30 million punchboards were sold, though during punchboards’ peak in 1939, 50 million were sold. So they were very popular, but their popularity declined after WWII.
  • So, back to the ouijamania article: Senator Sharkey said that the ouija board craze was “as bad as the drug habit. The state legislatures or congress should act before the craze becomes worse. The bets thing to do would be to step in and prohibit the sale of ouija boards altogether.”
  • This senator was the publisher of a local newspaper, the Martinez Standard, and had a lot to say about the extreme case in El Cerrito:
    • “These women offered up $700 in currency as a sacrifice to the evil spirits of the ouija board. . . They burned this money, together with curls clipped from the heads of children who had been enticed into their house.”
  • There’s this part of me that wonders if he’s more offended by the burned money than the allegedly kidnapped children.

The Santa Ana Register ran another article called “Is Santa Ana a Devotee of the Ouija Board?”

  • This article appears above the fold on the front page.
  • It talks about how 500-600 ouija boards had been sold by local stores over the past 6-8 months, and one local store has been selling 3-4 boards a day for months.
  • And on top of that, the library, was getting tons of requests for books about spiritualism and psychic communication.
  • It mentions the previous Ouija board craze, which it claims was about 14 years before, though it seemed to me that it was a little earlier than that. But at any rate, it credits the war with starting
  • It mentions how some people buy the boards thinking they may be real ways to communicate with the departed, and others buy it as a fun game.
  • They quote a local merchant who says:
    • “Nearly everybody who buys a ouija board . . . Says that it is ‘just for the fun of it,’ but most of them say it with just about the same air that a dad uses in saying he went to the circus to take the kids. Occasionally some one buys and says that it is for the purpose of investigation, and occasionally some one expressed great faith in it.”
  • But he also hastens to say:
    • “The very best people in the country [are buying it] . . . The buyers are not the poorly educated people of the city at all.”
  • There was also a fun bit of the article that talked about how to say Ouija:
    • The ouija board, according to the dictionary, is a form of the planchette, and the orthodox way to pronounce the word is “wee-ja.” There are experts in its use, however, who call it the weejer, and even the wee-jee.
  • The article continues on the next page, where it’s accompanied by the one about banning the board, which we talked about, and one called “Highly Dangerous as well as very interesting.” It’s a really weird article because it’s basically just a plagiarized reprint of an editorial in the SF chronicle. But to read the opening, which is my favorite bit.
    • The study of radium is interesting, but highly dangerous to anyone not scientifically equipped for that pursuit. So, too, is the study of psychics. Fortunately, the cost of radium prevents the ignorant from fooling with it. But unfortunately anyone can buy a ouija board.

 

Sources consulted in researching 1920s Ouijamania

Websites consulted RE: 1920s Ouijamania

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Lady
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aftermath_of_World_War_I#Germany
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperinflation_in_the_Weimar_Republic
  • https://mashable.com/2016/07/27/german-hyperinflation/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dementia_praecox
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moron_(psychology)
  • https://www.nature.com/scitable/forums/genetics-generation/america-s-hidden-history-the-eugenics-movement-123919444/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics_in_the_United_States
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imbecile
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch_of_Endor
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punchboard
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage_in_the_United_States
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage_in_the_United_States#Nineteenth_Amendment
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition_in_the_United_States#Start_of_national_prohibition_(January_1920)
  • https://thehill.com/changing-america/enrichment/arts-culture/471058-why-ouija-boards-creep-us-out
  • https://williamfuld.com/ouija_letters_05081920.html
  • https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/1s3w3w/im_a_patient_at_a_psychiatric_institution_in_the/
  • https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/19th-and-20th-century-psychiatry-22-rare-photos/21/
  • https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2008.08081271
  • https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/from-fever-cure-to-coma-therapy-psychiatric-treatments-through-time/
  • http://alexwellerstein.com/publications/?pdf=wellerstein_statesofeugenics.pdf
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenic_feminism
  • https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/11/rockhaven-sanitarium-womens-mental-health/417264/
  • https://www.ibtimes.com/marie-stopes-womens-rights-activist-or-nazi-eugenicist-848457
  • http://dangerouswomenproject.org/2017/02/28/eugenics-and-feminism/
  • https://www-jstor-org.i.ezproxy.nypl.org/stable/30041957?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Sanger#Eugenics
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_sleep_therapy
  • https://www.bustle.com/p/women-who-defied-gender-roles-were-once-imprisoned-in-asylums-55320
  • https://comstockhousehistory.blogspot.com/2008/11/sonoma-county-and-eugenics.html
  • https://comstockhousehistory.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-asylums-next-door.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_culture_in_San_Francisco#20th_century
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_discharge
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/in-the-early-20th-century-america-was-awash-in-incredible-queer-nightlife

Historical articles and advertisements RE: 1920s Ouijamania

  • “Blames Ouija Board and Bridge for Insanity Among Women.” Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) · Fri, Oct 29, 1920 · Page 12
  • “Committed to Warm Springs.” The Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana) · Sat, Apr 3, 1920 · Page 5
  • “Health Talks by William Brady, M.D., Noted Physician and Author. Dementia Ouija.” The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) · Thu, Oct 14, 1920 · Page 4
  • “Do the Dead Communicate With the Living?” The Journal (Logan, Utah) · Tue, Mar 30, 1920 · Page 6
  • “Doctor Tells Ouija Board Secret Works.” Escanaba Morning Press (Escanaba, Michigan) · Wed, Jun 23, 1920 · Page 2
  • “Give these Ghosts a Job.” The Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas) · Tue, Mar 23, 1920 · Page 8
  • “Hats off to Ouija Board.” University Daily Kansan (Lawrence, Kansas) · Mon, Apr 26, 1920 · Page 2
  • “Kiss Ouija Goodbye or Become a Moron: Dr. Hickson is Ready for All Who Trust in Board and Spirits, Are Primarily Praecox.” Ironwood Daily Globe (Ironwood, Michigan) · Thu, Feb 12, 1920 · Page 3
  • “Madam Ouija is Declared Fraud by Dr O’Shea: Is Adventuress in World of Psychology and Makes People Self Deceived.” The Fort Collins Courier (Fort Collins, Colorado) · Fri, Jun 25, 1920 · Page 5
  • “Calls Ouija Board ‘Agency of Devil’: W. B. Fowler Also Assails the “Boarders”: Tells Bible Students Satan Is Still Working Largely Through Women.” The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Mon, Mar 8, 1920 · Page 8
  • “Ouija Is Servant Of Subconcious Mind of Operator.” The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon) · Mon, May 31, 1920 · Page 1, Page 22
  • “Ouija Driving Women Mad: New Mania Due to Occult Overindulgence Claims Many Victims.” The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro, Kentucky) · Sun, May 16, 1920 · Page 22
  • “Ouija Boards as Oracles.” Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona) · Tue, Jan 27, 1920 · Page 4
  • “Ouija Boards to Be In Equipment.” The Whittier News (Whittier, California) · Tue, Mar 23, 1920 · Page 1
  • “Ouija Craze Has Struck Wichita. Mystic Boards and WOrks on Psychic World Are Much Sought in City.” The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, Kansas) · Sun, Jan 4, 1920 · Page 32
  • “Ouijamania stirs inhabitants of El Cerrito.” Pasadena Evening Post (Pasadena, California) · Fri, Mar 5, 1920 · Page 6
  • “Psychic Cults and Systems: Why Mediums Have Control.” Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, New York) · Sun, Jun 6, 1920 · Page 34
  • “Sir Oliver Lodge Talks Here With ‘Spirit’ Via Ouija Board: 20-year-old Winnipeg Girl is Medium Used for Unique Experiment.”The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) · Thu, Apr 29, 1920 · Page 1
  • “Spook Stuff.” The Chattanooga News (Chattanooga, Tennessee) · Mon, Mar 15, 1920 · Page 4
  • “Sure, Ouija Board KNows a Lot, Says ALeko at Pantages.” The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Thu, Apr 22, 1920 · Page 9
  • “The Case Against Spiritualism.” Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) · Sun, Jan 18, 1920 · Page 18
  • “Weakness and Ouijas.” Hanford Morning Journal (Hanford, California) · Sat, Sep 11, 1920 · Page 2
  • “Whole California City Ouija Crazy to be Examined.” Press-Courier (Oxnard, California) · Fri, Mar 5, 1920 · Page 1
  • “Why ‘Ouija,’ Is Jastrow Query: ‘Yes, Yes,’ Board Doesn’t Prevent Spooks from Saying ‘No.” Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin) · Wed, Apr 7, 1920 · Page 8
  • “Would Stop Sale of Ouija Boards in California.” The Whittier News (Whittier, California) · Sat, Mar 20, 1920 · Page 7
  • Ouija Boards All the Rage in Akron Thousands Bought. Akron Evening Times (Akron, Ohio) · Sun, Feb 15, 1920 · Page 35
  • About that Ouija Board. The Stockton Review (Stockton, Kansas) · Thu, Jan 1, 1920 · Page 1
  • Is Santa Ana a Devotee of the Ouija Board? Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) · Tue, Mar 16, 1920 · Page 7
  • “They don’t do it in the very best spirit circles.” The Winfield Daily Free Press (Winfield, Kansas) · Mon, Nov 15, 1920 · Page 6
  • “Weird Ouija Board Rites Are Fertile Source of Mania.” The Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana) · Mon, Mar 29, 1920 · Page 1
  • “Ouija to be Banned from Sacramento.” The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Tue, Mar 9, 1920 · Page 4
  • “Ouija Board Blamed for Mental Trouble.” The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Sat, Mar 20, 1920 · Page 7
  • “Ouija Board Drives Policeman to Street Naked.” The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Sat, Mar 6, 1920 · Page 13

Check out the shownotes for the rest of the series to see all of the sources used.

Listen to the rest of the Ouija board series:

Don’t miss our past episodes:

Ouija after World War I: We tried talking about 1920s Ouijamania but there was too much good stuff in the late 19teens.

Highlights include:
• Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini playing with a Ouija board in an Atlantic City hotel room
• The pope hiring a former psychical researcher to denounce Ouija
• Possible connections between remote viewing and successful Ouija board use
• The solar plexus chakra and ouija
• Racism in 1920s America

 

 
Ouija after World War I: a 1918 newspaper with a drawing of a ghost emerging from a Ouija board

“Can The Dead Talk To Us?” The San Francisco Examiner. Sun, May 26 , 1918.

 

Episode Script for Ouija after World War I (Ouija Boards Part 6)

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

“It is a most difficult and sometimes quite a hopeless task to reason with a mind under spirit-control and which, by reason of that control, has lost the power of judging fairly and squarely.”

–The New Black Magic and the Truth about the Ouija Board, published in 1919

 

So I thought this episode was going to be like our Australian Ghost Hoaxers episode, just a funny set of stories about some people doing and saying weird stuff, and journalists writing comical articles about it.

  • But when I really started digging in, I realized this was a way bigger topic, and that there’s a lot to talk about not just about people getting really into Ouija boards, but also about post-WWI society. Since you can’t really separate any story from the time period it’s set in.
  • I know there’s a tendency to think of the 1920s as a fun time of flappers and prohibition. But there’s a lot of ugliness there as well, especially when you look at the United States in the 1920s.
  • So this will be a two-part episode (I hope) this week we’ll talking about the years between the beginning of WWI and the end of the 19teens.
  • We’ll talk about one article from 1920, but aside from that, we’ll really be looking closely at stories from the 1920s–and in particular, the year 1920, when the majority of the articles that I found were from–next week.

 

The week before last, we talked about some weird 19th century Ouija stories. A  new Ouija fervor started during WWI.

  • If you listeners remember from the 19th century Ouija stories episode, there were a lot of stories in the late 19th century, but things got quiet in the early 20th. But a combination of factors, including WWI , made Ouija popular again, though the craze didn’t really kick off until the 1920s.

 

  • I found one article in The Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas) · Fri, Aug 18, 1916 that references how Ouija wasn’t so popular anymore:
    • “The ouija board that several years ago was more popular than motor car riding, is presumed to be connected with the unseen world. . . During the ouija board craze the chap who couldn’t spell his sweetheart’s name not only felt like a pill himself, but the girl thought he did not care for her.”
    • So as late as 1916, people really saw the Ouija board as a has-been. How wrong they were.

 

  • There’s a recent article on history.com that argues that the Spanish Flu, which hit the US between 1918 and 1920, caused a huge resurgence in Spiritualism. That’s interesting to me because in most places, I’ve read that WWI was responsible.
    • But of course we’re all really focused on how pandemics influence society right now, so it make sense that people are now looking at the Spanish Flu and seeing how it changed the world. That’s the closest we can get to predicting the future right now, as far as I’m concerned.
    • So to talk about that:
    • 20 million people died in World War I (worldwide)
    • The Spanish Flu killed 50 million people
      • though the first wave mostly killed people with prexisting conditions and older people, the much deadlier second wave hit relatively young people the hardest, with people between 20 and 40 dying most frequently
      • Just a sidenote about the Spanish flu, it didn’t really hit me till just now because I’m used to it being called the 1918 flu pandemic, etc, but the Spanish flu had four waves that went on through April 1920.
      • I never really consider how long that is, or how it ended it 1920, and then COVID-19 started making headlines in 2020, an even 100 years later.

 

  • So, two famous people who advocated for spiritualism around this time were Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a respected physicist named Sir Oliver Lodge
    • Both of them had been interested in the supernatural for a while, and both of them had sons who died in the war.
    • Both of them wrote and spoke a lot about how they communicated with their sons via seances, automatic writing, etc.
    • Lodge wrote a book in 1916 called Raymond, or Life and Death, all about it his many communications with his son. Doyle claims to have communicated with his son many times, and said that as of 1919, he knew of 24 mothers who had spoken to their dead sons.
      • I’ve already started gathering sources for an episode about the two of them, someday once we’re done talking about Ouija boards.
    • Meanwhile, Harry Houdini saw all of the fake mediums springing up during and after the war, and started traveling around debunking spiritualism.
    • As Ouija became more and more popular in the years from 1917-1922, Houdini called it “the first step towards insanity.” And he wasn’t the only one–a bit later we’ll get to more accounts of literal Ouija madness.
    • I just wanted to tell one funny story about Houdini and Doyle, who seemed to be friendly at first, but then got understandably less friendly.
      • Doyle’s wife, Jean, was supposedly a medium.
      • In 1922, the three of them were at a hotel room in Atlantic City playing with a Ouija board, and Jean said that she’d made contact with Houdini’s mother, who said a few things to Houdini, including “Merry Christmas.”
      • The only problem is that Houdini’s mom was Jewish and she’d only spoken Yiddish, so there’s no way she’d say Merry Christmas to him.

 

As usual, I’ve pulled a bunch of stories, and we’ll go through them generally in chronological order so you can see how Ouijamania developed.

 

  • But looking at newspaper articles, it seemed like the craze started innocently enough. One article from The Weekly Tribune (Cape Girardeau, Missouri) published on  Nov 23, 1917  said that a local man had consulted the Ouija board about WWI. The board claimed that the war would end in January 1919.
    • It was wrong by 2 months; the war ended in November 1918
    • The board also said that the Romanovs (the ruling family of Russia, of Anastasia fame), who had been exiled to Siberia in August 1917, would not be coming back. The board was right about that: The Romanovs were executed in summer 1918.
    • So you could maybe say that the board was sorta right? (At least half right)
    • But this is the kind of article that was getting printed about Ouija at the time–puff pieces about nice local dudes playing Ouija to learn about world events. But that was about to really change.

 

  • In May 1918, the San Francisco Examiner published a piece called “Can The Dead Talk To Us?”, which was a full page feature with a beautiful illustration of a couple playing with a Ouija board on a beautiful moonlit terrace, and a huge creepy ghost coming out of the board.
    •  The subject of the piece was a writer named Ella Wheeler Wilcox who claimed to communicate with her dead husband through a Ouija board.
    • There was a poem from her,  a letter to the editor describing her experience, and then an editorial from the newspaper saying that they don’t believe in Ouija but are glad that it gives people comfort.
    • Ella Wheeler Wilcox had been publishing poems about communicating with the dead and had gotten so many questions about it that she felt that she had to write the letter about how she had definitive proof that you can communicate with the dead.
    • She didn’t go into her proof, but I looked up her memoir, which was published in 1918, and it sounds like she got this message from her dead husband while at the Ouija board:
      • Brave one, keep up your courage. Love is all there is. I am with you always. I await your arrival.
      • She continued communicating with her husband via Ouija, and some of the proofs of it really being him are complicated. But for example, while using the board with her friend, there was an unprompted reference to the Quinnipiac Club when the friend’s husband walked in. It turns out that the last time the dead husband had gone to the club, he’d played a game at the club with the friend’s husband. So Ella Wheeler Wilcox said it couldn’t have been her subconcious acting, since she hadn’t known about the game.
    • Her memoir, The Worlds and I, goes into a decent amount of detail, and I’ll link to it in the shownotes. But I wanted to read this little snippet of the letter she wrote for the San Francisco Examiner:
      • These experiences have changed the earth for me from a barren desert of appalling loneliness to a glorious anteroom to realms of glory. It has robbed death of its terror and the grave of its sting. Just as electricity came by patient research into God’s real of wonders, so will this great spiritual truth come to be known to the whole world in the next century. We are on the eve of the most glorious scientific discoveries of all time. Let us be expectant.

 

  • I found a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen from January 1919, where the tone shifted:
    • To people who know nothing of psychic phenomena and the laws governing it, especially persons of a nervous temperament, the Ouija board presents very real dangers, especially when it serves as a medium for seeking information regarding the future, as the person interested is not usually in possession of any facts which can be arrayed against the predictions obtained through the medium of the board. There is always a certain fascination in prying into the future and any satisfaction obtained in this direction is usually a menace to the peace of mind of the subject.
    • The article also argues that science can explain the Ouija phenomenon, and that the board operates by tapping into the operators’ minds, or in instances where the operators don’t know something but someone else in the room does, it operates by the law of suggestion. It likens that to hypnotism. (Though I don’t totally understand that comparison.)

 

  • In January 1919, Teddy Roosevelt died, and by March there were multiple reports of people making contact with him via the Ouija board. Those articles were still pretty lighthearted, but not really interesting enough to go into here.

 

  • I found a letter to the editor in a Catholic publication in Brooklyn called The Tablet: “Ouija Board Devilry.”· Sat, Dec 13, 1919 · Page 7
    • References a recent New York Tribune article saying that there’s been a big increase in Ouija board purchases.
    • It calls Ouija boards evil, and it talks about how Christians, God, and his saints were on one side, and quote:
      • The evil nation not included in this holy alliance, Satan and his “legion,” the Bolsheviki of that other world, alone remains for the war dance on the Ouija board. . .
      • The shopping spirit is upon us and “the spirit” [by this, the letter writer means the spirit residing in the Ouija board] orders the sale of the Ouija board as a novelty. The command of “the spirit” has been heard, and his obedient servants hasten to obey. One store reports sales of the Ouija board at the rate of twenty a day. Others cannot supply the demand. Surely, the bottomless pit has opened into a dark age all its own.
      • Much of this article was totally incomprehensible to me, despite having been raised Catholic and having read the Bible several times–it was kinda a mishmash of bible verses and references to religious stuff that didn’t really make sense to me. But it’s clear that this person thought that Ouija was the tool of the devil, and that its popularity signaled something sinister.

 

  • In 1919, a former spiritualist and member of the British Society for Psychical Research turned devout Catholic, J. Godfrey Raupert, wrote a book called The new black magic and the truth about the ouija-board. Apparently Pope Pius X had actually specifically asked Raupert to warn Catholics against the Ouija board.
    • In the book, he says that Ouija board use begins by borrowing from the user’s subconscious, but as they continue using it, it can go beyond that and take on supernatural, or as he calls it “preternatural” form. Suddenly, you might get real information.
      • From the book:
      • As these experiments are continued and as the mind becomes more passive and lethargic, the phenomenon begins to change its character and pass from the natural into the preternatural. . . . Disclosures are made respecting the character and doings and intimate personal affairs of persons not known to the experimenter. Messages are given, clearly and conclusively indicating knowledge and information wholly beyond the reach of the writer’s own mind. And they are conveyed in a form and manner suggesting the presence of a critical and observant mind and of a judgement quite at variance with that of the experimenter.
    • That, to me, sounds an AWFUL lot like remote viewing.
      • Through remote viewing techniques, people have been able peer into classified documents that were very far away, locate secret NSA bases, and more.
      • There’s a documentary about remote viewing called Third Eye Spies, and there’s also a book by remote viewing pioneer (and the inventor of lasers) Russell Targ, called The Reality of ESP: A Physicist’s Proof of Psychic Abilities. To read a snippet of the book:
        • This ability is about learning how to quiet your mind and separate the visual images of the psychic signal from the uncontrolled chatter of the mind.
      • It wouldn’t surprise me if finding real information on the Ouija board and getting intel through remote viewing were basically the same technique. This is a big topic, but I wanted to flag the parallel there because it was so striking to me.
    • To get back to the Ouija book we were talking about:
      • The tone grows increasingly alarmist:
        • After a while instruction is generally given how a greater degree of passivity can be attained and how this mode of intercourse between the world seen and unseen can be made much more perfect and profitable. The experimenter, fascinated by these communications, and convinced that he has come upon a great and valuable discovery, readily adopts the advice given and resorts to the ouija-board habitually and systematically.
      • He says that the person often believes that they’re talking to a deceased loved one. However, he warns that “it has never been found possible to conclusively identify the particular spirit communicating.”
        • Basically, if someone recognizes a detail about a loved one, then that means that detail could have come from the experimenter themself rather than from the spirit. (Because if they didn’t know the detail, how would they recognize it?)
        • It also said that:
          • There is abundant proof . . . To show that [the spirits] can, under given conditions, extract information from distant mind, with whom the experimenter is in some kind of rapport, and from books and letters and other extant sources of information.
        • Which again, sounds like remote viewing.
        • It said that it’s often obvious that the spirits aren’t the person they’re pretending to be, because they’ll get the details right but then some obvious stuff wrong (like confusing the life story of a wife for the experimenter’s mother’s life), or contradict themselves
        • Spirits have even admitted their trickery, and say that they’ve been able to “mind tap” people
        • He also said that the messages are often frivolous or pointless, and they don’t really say much about the afterlife. Often, the spirits speaking through the board insinuate bad things about friends and family, causing discord like divorces, major falling outs.
        • The spirits will also flatter the person consulting the board, pretending to be Catholic when talking to Catholics, Unitarian when talking to Unitarians, Anarchist when talking to Anarchists. And then, he claims, it’ll start undermining the faith of any Christians using the board.
        • He also describes how the Ouija board basically sucks the energy out of the person using it habitually:
          • “In order to obtain the movements of the board, vital or nerve-energy is withdrawn from he organism of the experimenter, often out of all proportion to the physical health and constitution.”
        • He talks about 3 cases he recently learned about where Ouija board users were sent to the asylum because the doctor claimed that “the use of the ouija-board has brought about a state of dementia”
        • He also cautions readers against any kind of automatic writing, including the planchette.
        • He warns that the Ouija board shouldn’t be in any Christian household, and that children should be kept away from it.

 

 

  • I read a really tongue in cheek article from February 1920 called “An Interview With Ouija” printed in the The Wilmington Morning Star (Wilmington, North Carolina)
    • One interesting thing that the article mentioned was that when using the Ouija board, they consulted with a book about Ouija that said that “the solar plexus–that never sleeping brain of the individual–is the switchboard or receiving station for the messages . . . The great secret why some individuals can successfully use the board and some cannot is that the successful person must have, so to speak, a diseasedly sensitive solar plexus.”
      • The reason why I call this bit out is that it immediately made me think of the solar plexus chakra, which is the third chakra.
        • My chakra knowledge is limited to doing chakra meditations, so I’m always forgetting which chakra does what. But I looked it up and the solar plexus is associated with fire and transformation, and in the body it controls digestion and metabolism.
        • When the solar plexus is unbalanced–which I wonder if that’s what they mean by “diseasedly sensitive” solar plexus–then apparently it can cause a number of issues. Those include low self-esteem, trouble setting and maintaining boundaries, codependency, trouble with self-control and addiction, and depression and anxiety.
        • One of the symptoms of excessive Ouija board use that was mentioned in The New Black Magic and the Truth About the Ouija Board was “a particular condition of lassitude and exhaustion–in many instances accompanies by severe pain at the top of the spine and gradually spreading over the entire brain.”
        • Supposedly one physical symptom of solar plexus chakra issues can be nerve pain. I did look it up, and apparently the solar plexus is literally just a network of nerves.
        • I’m not really trying to put forth a strong argument about ouija and the solar plexus chakra, but the reference was too interesting for me not to mention, especially because I haven’t read anything mentioning the solar plexus and Ouija before this.

 

  • So I wanted to talk about the tidbit from that newspaper article, but I also need to talk about the newspaper this came from. I’m in North Carolina for most of the summer, and I’ve been reading up on North Carolina history. I guess that this is my first actual experience of spending an extended amount of time in the south, since Texas is kind of its own thing, and I’m Cajun but have never lived in Louisiana.
    • So I’ve been working to understand more of the history of the south, and the legacy of racism here. For example, my sister was telling me the other day that it’s technically illegal to wear masks in North Carolina, and that was a law that had to be on the books because of the KKK. So they’ve had to temporarily suspend that law because of COVID.
    • So while this digression doesn’t have to do with Ouija, it does have to do with forgotten history, and I definitely can’t reference this newspaper without telling this story:
    • I’m currently reading a book called Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino
    • It’s an extremely good book, and I recommend reading it. It’s also extremely upsetting. But it tells the story of white supremacy in the south in a way that I, hadn’t ever quite learned the details of.
    • It turns out that there’s only been one successful coup in American history, and it happened in Wilmington, NC.
    • During the Reconstruction, Wilmington was a relatively good place for black people to live. The population was majority black, and Wilmington was the largest city in North Carolina. Black people held many highly skilled jobs; many were craftsman, and there was even a black-owned newspaper called the Wilmington Daily Record. White supremicits basically spurred white people to become more and more racist, and  that led to a coup overthrowing the duly elected government there, and the massacre of between 60 and more than 300 black people. After that, much of the black population had to leave Wilmington.
    • As horrific as that was, it had a huge ripple effect beyond the people of Wilmington–it really ushered in racist Jim Crow laws, and this new southern system of white supremacy. It was kind of the beginning of the end of what was supposed to be a period of black people gaining equal rights in the US after the Civil War.
    • Also, the massacre was depicted in the press as a “race riot” and the white killers were painted as innocent victims. That false narrative was perpetuated by newspapers of the time, just as much of the white supremacist sentiment that caused the riots was engineered by the white-owned newspapers in the area. One of those newspapers was the Wilmington Morning Star, which was run by a former confederate officer.
  • A little more context that has bearing on the actual topic of the episode: So one thing that I’m very mindful of when reading historic newspaper articles is that no newspaper is a truly reliable source. I find inconsistencies from article to article in basic facts, but there’re much larger issues and a context that may not be obvious from reading an article or two in a newspaper. I pulled this newspaper article in late May, but didn’t know the hateful story behind it until last weekend, when I started reading Wilmington’s Lie.
    • The massacre and coup happened in 1898. The KKK had been started shortly after the civil war, but was shut down by federal agents. However, in 1915, filmmaker DW Griffith released his pioneering–and hateful–film The Birth of a Nation. If you’ve ever taken a film class, you’re familiar with The Birth of a Nation, because it was groundbreaking in a lot of technical ways.
      • However, the movie was a glorification of the KKK. It featured racist portrayals of black people (played by white people in blackface, in many case) and showed the KKK as heroes who were just protecting American values.
      • It was an enormous commercial success.
      • It also inspired a rebirth of the KKK, which had a major resurgence in the early 1920s.
  • So why am I going into all of this detail about the history of the KKK?
    • It’s because as I’ve been going through all of these articles from the early 20s, I’m encountering a lot of references and things that I don’t really understand. (Like I’m less confused by articles from the mid-19th century.) Some of the stuff I’m seeing might be random 1920s slang, but I’ve also been seeing a lot of dialog written weirdly, as if it’s in a dialect (or like a fake dialect.) For example, in the article I quoted from in the Wilmington Morning Star, there’s a bit where it quotes a patent clerk. It’s extremely obvious that it’s a racist caricature of what white supremacists thought black people talked like. (It reminds me of the way that screenwriters wrote lines for black actors in early talkies.)
    • During my Ouija board research, I’ve also come across huge newspaper ads for The Birth of a Nation, featuring quotes from educators saying that all southern children should see it, that if you’re a good southerner you’d see this film, etc.
    • I know that I could pick through these accounts and just pull out the fun and weird occult stuff, and never mention racist things that came up–but I think that if we’re talking about America in the 1920s, we can’t not at least talk about what was happening in the country at the time. Because nothing happens in a vacuum.

 

Sources consulted in researched Ouija after World War I

Websites consulted about Ouija after World War I

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Execution_of_the_Romanov_family
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Romanov
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_Wheeler_Wilcox
  • https://www.history.com/news/flu-pandemic-wwi-ouija-boards-spiritualism
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dangers_of_Spiritualism
  • https://www.independent.co.uk/news/conan-doyles-very-suspicious-seance-with-harry-houdini-1191847.html
  • https://www.williamfuld.com/ouija_letters.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manipura
  • https://www.chakras.info/solar-plexus-chakra/
  • https://www.chakras.info/solar-plexus-chakra-blockage/
  • https://lonerwolf.com/solar-plexus-chakra-healing/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celiac_plexus
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku_Klux_Klanhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birth_of_a_Nation
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star-News
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmington_insurrection_of_1898
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Manly

Historical articles and advertisements consulted about Ouija after World War I

  • “Dementia Ouija.” The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) · Thu, Oct 14, 1920 · Page 4
  • “War Will End in Jan. 1919, Says the Ouija Board.” The Weekly Tribune (Cape Girardeau, Missouri) · Fri, Nov 23, 1917 · Page 6
  • The Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas) · Fri, Aug 18, 1916
  • “Can The Dead Talk To Us?” The San Francisco Examiner, Sun, May 26, 1918
  • “Are You Superstitious?” El Paso Herald (El Paso, Texas) · Sat, May 31, 1919 · Page 6
  • “Letter To The Editor: The Ouija Board.” The Ottawa Citizen, Wed, Jan 22, 1919
  • TR Sends A Message Via The Ouija Board. The Wichita Daily Eagle. Sun, Mar 23, 1919. 
  • Oh Look What TR Said Ouija Board. Evansville Press. Mon, Apr 14, 1919. 
  • “Ouija Board Devilry.” The Tablet (Brooklyn, New York) · Sat, Dec 13, 1919 · Page 7
  • “Among Us Mortals.” Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) · Sun, Feb 15, 1920 · Page 23
  • “Haskin’s Daily Letter: An Interview With Ouija.” The Wilmington Morning Star (Wilmington, North Carolina) · Thu, Feb 26, 1920 · Page 4

Books consulted about Ouija after World War I

  • The Worlds and I by Ella Wheeler Wilcox: https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Worlds_and_I.html?id=BBJIU0v_gyUC
  • The new black magic and the truth about the ouija-board by J. Godfrey Raupert: https://archive.org/details/newblackmagictru00raup/page/214/mode/2up
  • The Reality of ESP: A Physicist’s Proof of Psychic Abilities by Russell Targ
  • THE PROBLEMS OF PSYCHICAL RESEARCH by Hereward Carrington (1921) : https://www.gutenberg.org/files/23660/23660-h/23660-h.htm#Page_247
  • Raymond, or Life After Death:
    https://archive.org/details/raymondorlifeand032030mbp
  • Wilmington’s Lie by David Zucchino

Check out the shownotes for the rest of the series to see all of the sources used.

Listen to the rest of the Ouija board series:

Don’t miss our past episodes:

We take a detour in our look at the Ouija board and dive into Victorian Egyptomania.

In the Victorian Era, people were really into death and the supernatural. Americans and Europeans also started traveling to Egypt and bringing back mummies and other pieces of Egyptian culture. We talk about some of the weird stuff that Victorians did with Egyptian artifacts, some now-destroyed Egyptian Revival buildings in NYC, and more, as well as what all of this has to do with Ouija.

Highlights include:
• An Egyptian Revival prison built on quicksand in New York City
• Mummy unwrappings
• Creepy automatons and mad scientists
• Mummies as medicine
• Jewelry made from real scarab beetles
• Imperialism and stealing Ancient Egyptian artifacts
• Indiana Jones-style hijinks
• A giant Egyptian-influenced reservoir that used to sit in the middle of midtown Manhattan

 

Croton Reservoir

Photo of the Croton Reservoir covered in ivy (from Ephemeral New York: https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/when-the-citys-water-supply-came-from-42nd-street/ )

Image from A History of Egyptian Mummies By Thomas Joseph Pettigrew

Image from A History of Egyptian Mummies
By Thomas Joseph Pettigrew

 

A History of Egyptian Mummies By Thomas Joseph Pettigrew

Image from A History of Egyptian Mummies
By Thomas Joseph Pettigrew

 

Image from A History of Egyptian Mummies By Thomas Joseph Pettigrew

Image from A History of Egyptian Mummies
By Thomas Joseph Pettigrew

Image from A History of Egyptian Mummies By Thomas Joseph Pettigrew

Image from A History of Egyptian Mummies
By Thomas Joseph Pettigrew

 

 

Episode Script for Victorian Egyptomania (Ouija Boards Part 5)

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

 

This obelisk may ask us, ‘Can you expect to flourish forever? Can you expect wealth to accumulate and man not decay? . . .  Can it creep over you and yet the nation know no decrepitude?’ These are questions that may be answered in the time of the obelisk but not in ours.”

-US Secretary of State William Maxwell Evarts’s remarks when Cleopatra’s Needle, an obelisk in New York City’s Central Park, was raised

 

  • Today, we’re talking about the Victorian obsession with all things Egyptian.
  • I think that a big part of Victorian Egyptomania is tied in with Victorian ideas about death and interest in the supernatural.
  • However, I did want to talk some about the racial component to Egyptomania–beyond the obvious imperialism involved in Europeans and Americans stealing artifacts from Egypt.
    • But there’s been scholarly work done that unpacks the racial implications of of Egyptomania in the US–the US definitely seemed to see America as a powerful empire like the Egyptian one. And there’re parallels between Egypt and the US in that they’re empires built on slavery, and that the conflict about the freedom of slaves (the Civil War and beyond in the US, and Exodus in Egypt) were defining moments.
    • I wanted to read a bit from the summary of a book on the topic, Egypt Land by Scott Trafton:
      • “The American mania for Egypt was directly related to anxieties over race and race-based slavery. . . . the fascination with ancient Egypt among both black and white Americans was manifest in a range of often contradictory ways. Both groups likened the power of the United States to that of the ancient Egyptian empire, yet both also identified with ancient Egypt’s victims. As the land which represented the origins of races and nations, the power and folly of empires, despots holding people in bondage, and the exodus of the saved from the land of slavery, ancient Egypt was a uniquely useful trope for representing America’s own conflicts and anxious aspirations.”
    • And people were very aware of this parallel during the 19th century. A black 19th century doctor, writer, spiritualist, and Rosicrucian occultist named Paschal Beverly Randolph,  said, in 1863: “For America, read Africa; for the United States, Egypt”
    • A lot of black thinkers in the 19th century sought to show that Egyptians were black Africans–that would counter the racist and degrading history that the United States had imposed on African Americans.
      • And I think pretty much everyone knows about how enslaved African Americans identified with Exodus, singing spirituals like “Go Down, Moses” where Israel stood for the enslaved African Americans, whereas the Pharaoh represented the slave master.
      • And I guess it goes without saying that leading white scientists like Thomas Pettigrew, who we’ll talk about later, were meanwhile measuring mummy skulls and claiming that they were Caucasian rather than African.
    • This is a huge topic and I’m not doing it justice, but I didn’t want to launch into the topic of Egyptomania without touching on that, since it’s such an important part of it.

 

  • So the whole reason why I got the idea to do this episode as part of our Ouija series is that I came across and interesting tidbit about the naming of the Ouija board
  • Someone on stackexchange posited that it may have come from a type of charm called the “oudja”–they found an article from November 1885 about it, saying it was an “Egyptian good luck charm.” Articles about the charm persisted through 1891–to quote from an 1891 article that they posted:
    • The latest craze to strike Philadelphia is the wearing of the “Oudja,” a pretty little Egyptian charm, supposed to ward off all forms of evil. The charm is thin, and about an inch long and half an inch wide. A conspicuous figure is the eye of “Horus” which represents the sun, and a teardrop hanging oendant from the eyes that represents the river Nile. The little charm, which has been worn in England for a couple of years, has been indispensable to the superstitous Egyptians for many centuries.
    • A pretty storey explains the Egyptian craze. A young officier in the English army sent one home to his bride, with an explanation of its origin. After a battle in the Soudan the young officier was reported dead, but his wife refused to believe it. Later on the official dispatches confirmed the death, but still the bride had faith in the little charm. Several months later the missing husband turned up alive and well, and the “Oudja” became a fad of great proportions.
  • Also, note: there’s a large city in Morocco called Oujda or Wejda, so I wonder if that could have also influenced the name of the board

 

  • So, the other reason why I think this is relevant–aside from the theory that the Ouija board’s name could have had a North African influenced origin is that I feel like Egyptomania is tied in with the obsession with death and the spirit world that caused Ouijamania. I also think it has some bearing on the Ouija board’s popularity, since it was marketed as an Egyptian luck board, and seemed exotic and magical.
  • So to set the state, I wanted to define the Victorian period of history, since we’ve mentioned it some without really talking about exactly when it was and what it was like.
    • So just a quick reminder: The Victorian Era stretches the length of Queen Victoria’s reign, which went from 1837 until 1901. It might be my favorite historical period because it’s so weird.
    • The Georgian era, the period right before the Victorian era, was all about rationality and science, etc. (That spanned from 1714-1837, and was during the reign of 4 kings named George.) Jane Austen wrote during the Georgian Era, so that’s always my reference point for it. But of course the Georgian era was also the time of the Enlightenment, and other kinda boring sciency advancements.
    • So the Victorian era followed that, and really kinda went off the rails. The Victorian era is prob best known for being this really buttoned up, repressed, religious time, but there was also a new interest in mysticism and the occult.
    • As the 19th century wore on, things got weird.
    • Gothic literature became popular again. Frankenstein was written during the Georgian period, but in the Victorian era we got awesome stuff like Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla, about a lesbian vampire. Also Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In America, we had Edgar Allen Poe writing in the US in the mid-19th century. So it seems unavoidable that the morbid Victorians would get really into Egyptomania.
    • Gothic Revival architecture, which began in the 1700s, began to really proliferate in the  19th and early 20th century.
    • One important tidbit that I learned while doing this bit of research is that Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, got really interested in Egyptology in the 1880s, and he corresponded with Oscar Wilde’s father, Sir William Wilde, who was a noted cadaver collector.
  • One Egyptomania-related anecdote that really nicely illustrates the shift from the Georgian to the Victorian era is a building called the Egyptian Hall, which once stood in Piccadilly in London.
    • Built in 1812, during the Georgian Period, Egyptian Hall is a byproduct of a new interest in Egypt. That interest began in part because in 1798, Lord Nelson–who was a huge British hero–won the Battle of the Nile, one of the battles in the Napoleonic Wars.
      • Also, Napoleon himself stole a bunch of Egyptian artifacts and brought them back to Europe.
      •  These pieces quickly became popular among the European upper classes, and people became really interested in the “exotic” and “mysterious” Egyptian aesthetic. 
    • So when you walked into Egyptian Hall, the entry hall was a replica of the avenue at Karnak (which was a temple complex in the ancient city of Thebes, near Luxor–which fans of the Mummy Returns may recognize).
    • The facade of the Egyptian Hall really exemplified the Egyptian revival style, looking almost like an Egyptian temple, complete with huge columns and sculptures of people on the front.
    • For a while, Egyptian Hall held natural history specimens from Captain Cook’s voyages in the South Seas. Later, Napoleonic War relics were displayed there.
    • Then a man named Giovanni Battista Belzoni took over the building. To read from georgianlondon.com:
      • An Italian strongman and performer, with an English wife, Sarah, Belzoni was a true adventurer: in 1817, he travelled to the Valley of the Kings and broke into the tomb of Seti I. From Seti’s tomb, Belzoni took a sarcophagus of white alabaster inlaid with blue copper sulphate of great beauty. The retrieval of the sarcophagus, however, was not without peril: the tomb was located in the catacombs, a maze of traps and dead ends, dug to confuse grave robbers. The French interpreter panicked and an Arab assistant broke his hip in a booby trap. Undeterred, Belzoni retrieved the sarcophagus and brought it to England along with the head of the ‘Younger Memnon’. Belzoni suffered constant vomiting and nosebleeds in Egypt, whilst Sarah was unaffected by so much as a case of sunburn – much to her husband’s chagrin.
    • In 1846, things got weirder: there was a really creepy exhibit of a talking machine, which was an automaton of a lady’s head attached to a bit machine on top of a piano. She had dark hair, in ringlets, and eyes that didn’t blink. Her name was Euphonia.
      • She could say:
      • “Please excuse my slow pronunciation… Good morning, ladies and gentlemen… It is a warm day… It is a rainy day… Bongiorno, signori.”
      • The inventor was a sort of mad-scientist type who was described thusly by a man who knew him:
        • The Professor was not too clean, and his hair and beard sadly wanted the attention of a barber. I have no doubt that he slept in the same room as his figure—his scientific Frankenstein monster—and I felt the secret influence of an idea that the two were destined to live and die together… One keyboard, touched by the Professor, produced words which, slowly and deliberately in a hoarse sepulchral voice came from the mouth of the figure, as if from the depths of a tomb.
    • By 1873–deep into the Victorian Era–the Egyptian Hall had become a bit less respectable:
      • The hall became known as the “England’s Home of Mystery”
      • John Nevil Maskelyne, a magician and inventor, performed there for 31 years.
        • His story is interesting: he got into stage magic when he saw some fradulent spiritualists perform, and realized that he could make all of the supposedly “magic” things happen without any actual magic.
        • He was the inventor of several illusions that are still used by magicians today, including some stuff to do with levitation.
        • He ended up running in the same circles as Harry Houdini, which makes since, since they were both magicians trying to disprove spiritualism as a fraud.
        • He wrote a book called “Modern Spiritualism” and later founded a group called the “Occult Committee” to investigate the paranormal and disprove it.
        • Fun fact: He also invented the pay toilet.
      • Even though they were trying to disprove Spiritualism, Maskelyne once said:
        • “…the Spiritualists had no alternative but to claim us as the most powerful spirit mediums who found it more profitable to deny the assistance of spirits.”
  • So basically, by the 1890s, the Egyptian Hall was strongly associated with spiritualism and the occult.
  • It was torn down in 1905, and a Starbucks stands in its place now.
  • Okay, enough of that digression–I want to get to the main digression: Egyptomania!
    • One note: when we were talking about Egyptian stuff a few weeks ago, I mentioned that people ground up mummies and used them as medicine. I’d thought it was a victorian thing, but apparently it was an earlier thing. People started doing it as early as either 1100 or 1300.
      • Just a sidenote: I just want to take a moment to remind everyone that we’re talking about cannibalism, here. And all of Egyptomania is tied to something that I think’s even worse than cannibalism, which is plundering another culture and then taking its history–right down to the bodies of their ancestors–and commodifying them.
        • The stories we’re telling here are weird and dark, and it’s hard not to laugh at how absurd they are–and I’m sure we’re going to laugh, because this stuff is  bizarre and the Europeans and Americans who partook in Egyptomania were foolish and ridiculous. But I just wanted to give us a moment to reflect on how we’re talking about basically white people plundering a Egyptian culture and history.
        • Okay, with that caveat aside, let’s talk about the use of powdered mummy as a medical remedy.
      • It sounds like powdered mummy was an item that was sold to Christians (particularly in Europe), and that it became very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Apparently pretty much every apothecary carried it as a treatment for cuts and bruises.
      • People broke into tombs and stole mummies.
      • Though people also made fake mummies using the bodies of executed criminals and slaves, or people who’d died from different diseases, and then sold that to people as if they were ancient mummies.
      • They also used the bodies of people who died while traveling in the desert, because the dry dessert air desiccated their bodies. The bodies of young women were supposed to work better for medicinal purposes, so they were more expensive.
      • King Francis I of France, who was a king in the 1500s, carried around a pouch of powdered mummy mixed with rhubarb, and then anytime he tripped or fell, he took some mummy. You know, for health.
      • So I got most of this information from a book from the 19th century called A History of Egyptian Mummies by Thomas Pettigrew. Based on what he wrote, it sounds like by the 19th century, this wasn’t as much of a thing anymore. But people were still obsessed with Egypt.
    • But one thing that was big in the Victoria era was Egyptian themed mourning jewelry.
      • Women would wear jewelry with real dried scarabs, or with Egyptian imagery lke obelisks.
      • The Egyptian Revival style became popular in cemeteries:
        • Highgate Cemetery in London has a huge gate done in the Egyptian revival style, as does Mt Auburn Cemetery in Boston, and Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut.
        • In Brookyn’s Green-wood Cemetery, you can see an Egyptian revival mausoleum.
      • And of course non-cemetery Egyptian Revival structures were big:
        • The Washington Monument, which is the obelisk in Washington, DC, was erected during the Victorian period
        • There were also several large Egyptian Revival buildings in NYC that have since been torn down, including:
          •  the original 1938 version of the Manhattan Detention Complex, more often referred to as “The Tombs,” where prisoners go to wait for hearings.
            • This original Egyptian revival building is how the Tombs got their name.
            • The Tombs’ architect was inspired by a recently published travelogue that had an etching of an Egyptian Tomb
            • The prison’s construction hit a snag, because the location was a filled in pond that had quicksand just beneath the surface of the ground; they had to make the foundation out of basically a raft that would rise and fall with the quicksand, which moved with the tides
            • It had very few windows, for exterior aesthetic reasons, so there was so little light that the interior had to be lit by gas lights, even during the day
            • The building was gloomy and dark, and Charles Dickens said of it: “What is this dismal fronted pile of bastard Egyptian, like an enchanter’s palace in a melodrama? . . . Such indecent and disgusting dungeons as these cells, would bring disgrace upon the most despotic empire in the world!”
            • Eventually, the building was declared unsafe, and in 1897, it was demolished.
            • The New York Times called it “the finest specimen of purely Egyptian architecture to be found in the United States.”
            • Though they considered relocating the building to Central Park and repurposing it, that plan was deemed too expensive.
            • In the end, no part of the building (which had some winged scarabs, beautiful columns, and other unique details) was preserved.
          • Another now-forgotten Egyptian Revival structure in NYC was the Croton Reservoir, which stands where Bryant Park and the famous NYPL building are now
            • When we talked about the Renwick Smallpox Hospital, we discussed how James Renwick, Jr., the architect of the Smallpox Hospital as well as more famous NYC buildings like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, worked on the Croton Acqueduct, which was constructed to bring clean water to the city. Specifically, he designed the Egyptian Revival Croton Reservoir.
            • The Acqueduct brought water from Upstate New York, where it was stored in the reservoir and then distributed around the city. Before that, there had been some really horrific outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera because of a lack of safe drinking water.
            • The Reservoir sat on four acres of land, held 20 million gallons of water, and built of huge granite blocks. It started distributing water in October 1842.
            • Once it opened, people could visit the reservoir and go for walks around its edge–Renwick had designed a wide promenade, so people would go there on the weekend and walk around it. From the top of the reservoir, you had a clear view of both rivers and the NJ palisades.
            • When the reservoir was first built, there weren’t many bildings around it, but by the 1850s, it was surrounded by brownstones. People were put off by its massive dark gray walls. It was a striking building, but not a very friendly one. They tried to soften it up by planting ivy on it.
            • After a few decades of people complaining about the reservoir, it was demolished in 1898. They’d built more reservoirs in the meantime, and people seemed to really hate the reservoir aesthetically. It was estimated that it’d cost about $100,000 (more than $3 million) in today’s dollars.)
            • If you go to the NYPL, though, there are some places where you can still see the stone granite of the old reservoir (I think it’s in the basement.)
        • Apparently Egyptian revival structures caught on in other cities, like Baltimore, a lot more than it did in NYC–for some reason NYers really found it aesthetically displeasing after the initial Egyptian Revival craze.
    • Actual ancient Egyptian artifacts were also put in some major cities:
      • Obelisks called “Cleopatra’s Needle” stand in London, Paris, and New York City–all three were about 1,000 years old when Cleopatra was alive, so their name is a misnomer, but they are ancient Egyptian obelisks. All three were gifts from the Egyptian government during the 19th century.
        • I actually had only known about the NYC one, which is in Central Park by the Met, but when I looked it up, I realized the other two were also called Cleopatra’s Needle. I also hadn’t realized that the Central Park obelisk was a real, ancient obelisk–I’d assumed it was just inspired by ancient obelisks.
        • I wanted to talk a little bit about the history behind these obelisks, since it says a lot about the history of European relations with places like Egypt.
        • All three obelisks were gifts from Muhammad Ali Pasha, who was an Albanian Ottoman governor who basically ruled Egypt from 1805-1848. He was sent to take Egypt back from Napoleon, and once Napoleon’s troops left, he was able to maneuver into the position of Viceroy of Europe, and then ended up getting control of parts of Arabia, Upper and Lower Egypt, Sudan, and the Levant (the Levant is modern day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, a bunch of Turkey, Israel, and I think at some points parts of Greece?).
        • So, the obelisk in Paris is one of two 3,000 obelisks that once stood at Luxor Temple. (The other one is still at Luxor.)
          • The dynasty that Muhammad Ali Pasha set up ended up running Egypt until the revolution of 1952.
          • So the reason why I got into all that detail is because he was a conquerer who took over Egypt–so it’s not like the obelisk was a gift from the Egyptian people, or something.
          • In exchange for the obelisk, France was supposed to give him a French mechanical clock. However, after the obelisk had already been delivered to France, they discovered that the mechanical clock didn’t work. It may have been damaged in transit. Today, the clock sits in a clock tower in Cairo and still doesn’t work.
        • There are 21 ancient obelisks that still stand. Here’s where they all are:
          • Egypt has fewer than 5
          • Rome has 13 (all taken during the time of the Roman empire)
          • And the rest are scattered around between New York and Istambul
        • A little history about the NYC obelisk: I saw some differing accounts (wikipedia says one thing, I found a different thing on PBS’s website)
          • One story says that it was a gift after the Suez canal’s completion, and other places said that the US lobbied to get an obelisk after Paris and London got one.

 

  • In addition to an interest in genuine Egyptian obelisks, people were also interested in real Egyptian mummies. During the 19th century, mummy unwrappings became popular.
    • In England, a surgeon named Thomas Pettigrew would host parties where people would come watch mummies be unraveled. He’d unwrap the mummy, then saw off part of their head, then prop up the mummy like they were still alive and try to scare people.
    • These became really popular 19th century events–Pettigrew did 40 of them, for example.
      • I have zero respect for Pettigrew–I find him detestable. In addition to trying to prove that the ancient Egyptians were white and commodifying the bodies of dead Egyptians, he also did things like display the severed, mummified head of an indigneous Australian named Yagan.
      • Yagan had opposed colonial rule and was killed by bounty hunters. Pettigrew got the rights to use his head for 18 months. So he adorned Yagan’s head with cockatoo features and a headband. Then he’d display the head in front of  a painting that showed the colonizers and indigenous people of Australia living together in hearmony.
    • In the 19th century, Europeans started traveling to Egypt frequently
    • In 1833, a French aristocrat and monk: “It would be hardly respectable, on one’s return from Egypt, to present oneself without a mummy in one hand and a crocodile in the other.”
    • A few weeks after a traveler came back from Egypt, they’d invite people over for a mummy unwrapping. They’d have dinner and drinks, and then unwrap the mummy afterwards. Apparently the unwrapping would smell pretty bad, but maybe ppl were drink enough to not really care?
    • This was generally a thing that rich people did–since they were the ones who had money to go to Egypt, or have friends who went to Egypt–but sometimes there were more public mummy unwrappings for the more general public to see.
    • However, I will say that some experts say that mummy unwrappings weren’t actually as popular as people say they were, and that they were mostly done by scholars, etc.
      • And actually, as far as I’ve been able to confirm, that’s correct. I mostly found articles describing mummy unwrappings as scientific or academic events.
      • I found an 1850 article talking about how there were 8-10 million mummies in Thebes, and it talked about how anyone could travel to Egypt and then bring back a mummy. The article said: “The open doors of the tombs are seen in long ranges, and at different elevations, and on the plain, large pits have been opened, in which have been found 1000 mummies at a time.”
      • It sounds like the scientific community started to push to preserve mummies for research purposes.
      •  I  found an article from 1881 that described some American tourists finding an Egyptian princess’s tomb, and there’s just a throwaway line that says that the mummy “like most of the treasures of antequarian Egypt, was after a while carted away to the British Museum.” So it sounds like if tourists found mummies, at least around that time, they’d call experts to take a away the mummy, and then they might examine it.
    • But I wanted to read a bit from one account I found, just as an example. This was originally printed in the New York Star in 1838 but seems to have been reprinted fairly widely:
      • Antiquities from Egypt–An interesting scene lately took place at the Anatomical Theatre of the Washington Medical College, at Baltimore. It was the unwrapping of an Egyptian Mummy, from Memphis, presented by Commodore Elliot, of the Navy. The usual transverse wrapping of coarse muslin externally, and longitudinal wrapping of fine next to the shrivelled embalmed body, were observed. A skull in great preservation, not embalmed, and dug up by the Commodore himself, was also presented.
      • The article then goes through a laundry list of other artifacts that were shown.
    • I also read an August 1894 article in The Daily Morning Journal and Courier that mentions that as the century wore on, it was harder to get mummies to unwrap:
      • The headline is : “Hark, From the Tombs” A Relic from Egypt–Three Thousand Years Old–Unwrapping a Mummy by the Scientific Society–Recently Came from Egypt and Was the Gift of Mrs. P.T. Barnum
        • Of late years “the spoiling of the Egyptians” has been prevented by the government of that country as much as possible, and it has been constantly more and more difficult to procure for scientific purposes specimens of the ancient Egyptiam embalming art, and therefore the presentation to the scientific society of this city of a very fine mummy from Egypt, by Mrs. P. T. Barnum, was an event not to be lightly passed over. How Mrs. Barnum procured it is not known exactly but through some office of the American consul at Cairo or Alexandria, doubtless it was done.
      • It’s nice to hear that Egypt was trying to reduce the number of mummies that were leaving the country, though by then it was pretty late I guess.

 

 

  • The interest in Egyptian beliefs about death became so great that in 1852, the 10th Duke of Hamilton insisted on being buried in the Egyptian style; he was mummified, then placed in an actual ancient Egyptian sarcophagus–which had once housed a princess whose name has been forgotten. He’d bought the sarcophagus 30 years before and had had carved out on the inside to fit his body, which was larger than its original inhabitant’s. He was then put in a Roman-style tomb at his estate in Scotland.
  • In the 1840s, the Egyptian Book of the Dead was translated into English–that was the first modern translation. The book detailed different beliefs that the Ancient Egyptians had about death and the afterlife.
    • Different occult groups, from the Masons to the Order of the Golden Dawn, ended up adopting different “Egyptian” practices. There’s a pretty funny looking picture of Aleister Crowley in like a pharaoh-type ritual headdress.
  • And there were stories of Egyptian stuff being cursed, like this story from a 1896 article in the Hampshire Telegraph:

The mummy was that of a priest of Thetis and it bore a mysterious inscription [….] which was long and blood-curdling. It set forth that whosoever disturbed the body of this priest should himself be deprived of decent burial; he would meet with a violent death, and his mangled remains would be ‘carried down by a rush of waters to the sea’

  • This mummy was purchased by an adventurer named Herbert Ingram from the British Consul in Luxor. Soon after, while hunting in Somalia, Ingram was trampled and attacked by an elephant. To read from an article from historyanswers.co.uk: “By the time his companions were able to reach his remains days later all but a handful of bones had been washed away by the rains.”

 

  • So that’s a bird’s-eye view of 19th century Egyptomania.
  • It’s by no means the only time that Americans and Europeans have been obsessed with Egypt–there was another huge resurgence in interest in Egypt in the 1920s, after Howard Carter discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922.
  • Interestingly, the 1920s also saw a HUGE resurgence in interest in Ouija, which is actually where we’ll pick back up next week.
 

Victorian Egyptomania Sources

Websites about Victorian Egyptomania

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_I_of_France
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aida
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karnakhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Monument
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra’s_Needle
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra%27s_Needle_(New_York_City)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levant
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali_of_Egypt
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxor_Obelisks
  • https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/egypt/raising/world.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_Revival_architecture
  • https://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2011/11/lost-egyptian-revival-croton-reservoir.html
  • https://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2011/07/lost-1838-egyptian-revival-tombs.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_Revival_decorative_arts
  • https://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/egyptian_nyc/19thcentury.html
  • https://www.ancient.eu/Egyptian_Obelisk/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tombs
  • https://mountauburn.org/egyptian-revival-gate/
  • https://www.dukeupress.edu/Egypt-Land/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paschal_Beverly_Randolphhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_Down_Moses
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/egyptian-building
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/victorian-party-people-unrolled-mummies-for-fun
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oujda
  • https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/355673/etymology-and-pronunciation-of-ouija
  • https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/people-politics/victorian-egyptomania-how-a-19th-century-fetish-for-pharaohs-turned-seriously-spooky/
  • https://allthatsinteresting.com/mummy-unwrapping-parties
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_era
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgian_era
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_Revival_architecture
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmilla
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptomania
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_Hall
  • https://georgianlondon.com/post/55869874064/lost-london-the-egyptian-hall
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Nevil_Maskelyne
  • https://flashbak.com/joseph-fabers-freakish-talking-head-haunts-uncanny-valley-1846-57136/
  • https://archive.org/details/1876MaskelyneModernSpiritualism
  • https://allthatsinteresting.com/mummy-unwrapping-parties
  • https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/when-the-citys-water-supply-came-from-42nd-street/

Historical articles and advertisements about Victorian Egyptomania

  • A Mummy Unwrapped Alexandria gazette and advertiser. June 17 1824 Image 2

  • A Palace Tragedy Steuben Republican Wed Dec 8 1886

  • Antiquities from Egypt The native American. Washington City i.e. Washington, D.C. 1837-1840- December 22 1838- Image 4

  • Argus and Patriot Wed Dec 15 1897

  • Broad Views of a Woman. The Wichita daily eagle. September 30 1890- Page 6- Image 6

  • Great Find of Egyptian Relics The Lake Charles echo. October 22 1881. Image 2

  • Hark From The Tombs The Daily Morning Journal and Courier Mon Aug 20 1894

  • Monsters to Order The Roanoke daily times. February 20 1896 Page 2 Image 2

  • Mummies of Egyptian Kings. The County paper. September 09 1881- Image 3

  • Mummy Unwrapping The Knoxville Register Sat May 25 1850

  • Ramses the Great St. Landry democrat. January 07 1888 Image 2

  • Rarest of June Roses. The climax. Kentucky. July 18 1888- Image 1

  • Rather Ancient The Caldwell tribune. April 09 1898 Image 1

  • Some Ones Baby Once Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express Sat Jan 14 1893

  • Story of an Ancient Statue Wessington Springs herald. April 29 1887 Image 3

  • That Mummy The daily crescent. June 27 1850 -Morning- Image 3

  • The Obelisk Kings. Iron County register. September 15 1881- Image 6

  • The Presbyterian of the South – Southwestern Presbyterian, Central Presbyterian

  • Southern Presbyterian. Atlanta Ga. 1909-1931 March 03 1909 Page 4 Image 8

  • The Preserved Dead. The National tribune. April 02 1891-Page 3-Image 3

  • The Black Hills Weekly Journal Fri Feb 7 1890

  • Turner County herald. September 16 1886 Image 4

  • Unique And Cosy The Evening Express Sat Aug 5 1893

  • Unrolling A Mummy Sunbury American. Sunbury, Pa. 1848-1879- June 15 1850 Image 2

  • Unwrapping a Mummy Sunbury American. Sunbury, Pa. 1848-1879- June 15 1850- Image 2

  • Unwrapping an Egyptian Mummy Weekly expositor. Brockway Centre Mich. 1882-1894 April 21 1887 Image 3

  • Unwrapping Mummy Postponed for Year-Evening star. Washington D.C.- 1854-1972- January 23 1924- Page 15- Image 15

  • Unwrapping of Mummy Filmed Evening star.-Washington, D.C.-1854-1972 December 31 1935 Page B-9 Image 25

  • Unwrapping A Mummy The San Francisco Examiner Sun Sep 8 1895

  • Unwrapping A Mummy Vermont Journal Sat Sep 7 1867

  • X-Ray Photographs Used by Scientists-New Britain herald. New Britain Conn.- 1890-1976- December 17 1923 Page 11 Image 11

  • X-Ray Pictures of Mummies Taken Evening star.-Washington, D.C.- 1854-1972- December 14 1923 Page 61 Image 61

Books consulted RE: Victorian Egyptomania

Check out the shownotes for the rest of the series to see all of the sources used.

Listen to the rest of the Ouija board series:

Don’t miss our past episodes:

19th century Ouija board stories: Chris digs up some early stories of people getting waaay too obsessed with their Ouija boards.

Highlights include:
• a rare story of a 19th century black woman’s experience with Ouija
• a couple destroying their home to (supposedly) convert the world to Masonic principles
• Presidential talking boards
• petty society columns
• Ouija wrecking havoc on a wealthy Brooklyn family
• a man finding spiritual fulfillment through Ouija

Most of these stories take place during the Victorian era, but we also look at a few in the early 20th century, going up to the start of WWI, which is when Ouijamania really kicked off.

 

19th Century Ouija Board Stories / picture of a family at the Ouija board

Picture from the article “Ouija’s Seance.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Oct 11, 1896 · Page 23

 

Episode Script for 19th Century Ouija Board Stories / Early Ouijamania (Ouija Boards Part 4)

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

“People want to believe. The need to believe that something else is out there is powerful. This thing is one of those things that allows them to express that belief.” -Ouija Expert Robert Murch, quoted in Smithsonian Magazine

 

First, something I wanted to add RE: the invention of the Ouija board. I happened to do a newspaper search of “witch board” because I realized I hadn’t searched that term, and I uncovered a pretty interesting story.

  • On June 2, 1886, President Grover Cleveland got married–he was the first president to marry while in office, and his new bride was the youngest first lady, at 21 years old.
    • Sidenote: both of them seemed like pretty bad people. Cleveland has some sexual assaults to his name, pretty predictably, and later on, during the 19teens, Frances Cleveland was a pro-war, anti-immigrant, anti-womens suffrage activist who once said “women aren’t intelligent enough to vote.”
  • So they sound like a charming couple.
  • Among their wedding gifts were a “witch board” sent by the Reed Toy Company, who was the company who manufactured the Espirito board that we talked about last week, which Fuld’s company ended up suing and then taking over the trademark for.
  • So, this does prove that the Reed Toy Company was making talking boards before Fuld’s company was, though I guess they must not have patented it.
    • I wanted to read a little bit from a Boston Globe article about the gift:
      • Should the president desire to settle any problematical questions, he can do so by calling upon his “witch board” for aid from the spirits. Should any of the giddy boys in the cabinet endeavor to flirt with the nation’s bride, it could not be done with impunity, as the tell-tale board would waft back the intelligence from the land beyond the portals to an unsuspecting public. No well-regulated family will now lack one of the articles which can glean information from a realm which even the telephone monopoly can’t reach . . . The following letter accompanied the piece of spiritualized lumber:
        • To the president of the United States, Grover Cleveland:
          • Honored Sir–we talk the liberty to send you by express today an article of our own manufacture, which is attracting a great deal of attention, called the “Witch Board.” When two persons of proper magnetism sit opposite each other, and place one finger of each hand on the edge of the small table, it will move around and answer questions asked by spelling out the word. The “Witch Board” discloses the past and foretells the future. Trusting that it may be of service to, I am very respecfully yours, Charles E. Dresser, Treasurer
    • There were some follow-up articles that showed Cleveland’s responses:
      • Dear Sir–I acknowledge with thanks the receipt of the witch board. I shall admire it, but I shall not at present test its power of disclosing the past or foretelling the future. Yours very truly, Grover Cleveland

 

Also, I was reading Occult America by Mitch Horowitz, and it gave a few extra details about some of the stuff we discussed last week that I hadn’t see written elsewhere:

  • So apparently there was at least one version of the Ouija box that said “It draws the two people using it into close companionship and weaves around them a feeling of mysterious isolation.” which really emphasizes what we were talking about RE: it being an excuse to be intimate with someone.
  • Then it had a little more info about William Fuld: apparently he started working as a  at the Kennard Novelty Company when he was a teenager–he worked as a varnisher and he did operational work.
    • It says that Kennard was removed from the company b/c of a financial dispute.

 

So let’s talk Ouijamania, or really what I’m calling pre-Ouijamania, the period from 1891-1914! In this episode, I want to focus on the period ranging from 1891 (when the Ouija board was first manufactured) to the start of World War I.

  • Ouijamania really started in earnest during WWI.
  • As far as I can tell, the term “Ouijamania” wasn’t actually coined until 1920, but I wanted to touch on some of the stories that came out of the early Ouija craze.
  • We talked a little bit about Spiritualism in an earlier episode; by 1893, two years after the official invention of the Ouija board, spiritualism became its own religious denomination. (Which, by the way, technically still exists.)
    • The reason why I bring up Spiritualists again is that if they didn’t exist, I really doubt the Ouija board would.
    • Spiritualists sound little like Unitarians? There was one famous Spiritualist writer, Andrew Jackson Davis, who said that he didn’t believe hell existed, and that instead all spirits go somewhere peaceful called “Summerland.” It sounds like Spiritualists were generally progressive, advocating for womens rights and abolition.

 

  • The earliest case of someone getting extremely obsessed with Ouija that I know of was reported in a Boston Daily Globe article called “CRAZED THROUGH OUIJA: Neglected by Her Lover She Seeks Comfort of a Fortune-Telling Device” from November 21, 1891.
    • 28-year old Eugenie Carpenter, “a fine looking woman” was found wandering around in public nearly naked. They couldn’t reason with her, and she kept saying “Ouija said so and I knew it was true.”
      • It turns out that her husband had left her, and for the past year, she’d had a new boyfriend. They’d argued over some small thing and split up.
      • When she heard that the Ouija board had magic powers, she got one and asked it if her husband would return. The board said no. Then she asked if her boyfriend would return, and the board said: “He has ceased to love you. He will never return.”
      • She grew pale when she got that message but soon regained her composure and seemed fine–until a few days later, her neighbor found her staggering around nearly naked, saying “Ouija said so and I knew it was so.”
    • Another article about this, published in the Buffalo Evening News on the same day, described her as a young divorced woman, and ends with the line “Catholic clergymen are waging a war upon Ouija boards as dangerous to the young.”

 

  • The Indianapolis Journal (Indianapolis, Indiana) · Sun, Dec 6, 1891 · Page 14
    • There’s a short column in the society section that talks about ladies who consult ouija boards and schedule or cancel parties based on what they say. (And it casts it as a bad and foolish thing)

 

In April 1892, the society pages in the The Memphis Appeal-Avalanche reported:

  • The society folks of Little Rock are infatuated with the “Ouija” board. It must be so when the leading minister in the city preaches against it. When he uttered the words . . . There was a general shifting of positions in the pews and briefly whispered conversations which clearly showed the majority of the congregatation was personally affected by the remarks.
    • I guess some church members insisted the sermon wasn’t directed at them; they said it was RE: a formerly Christian family that had recently gotten into spiritualism, trying to communicate with their dead son. But the author of this article said that wasn’t the case; the sermon was obviously anti-Ouija.
    • The article then describes how Ouija became popular among society people; a well-connected woman who worked in the fire insurance business got into Ouija when her business partner was run over by a fire department truck and killed a few weeks before the article was written. She tried to communicate with him through the board, and the board told her about some business he’d been working on the day he died (there was a policy where the premium hadn’t been paid yet) and told her exactly where the papers were, etc. So then she located those papers and told everyone about it, said she couldn’t have gotten that info any other way, etc.
    • The article then goes through and calls ppl out by name; it’s a pretty funny list of people and what they’re using the board for. But my favorite bit is this:
  • Frank Paoli has become a victim of the craze and spends two hours every day and the entire afternoons and evenings on Sundays consulting friendly spooks. Nearly all the spirits with whom he holds communion are in hell.

 

Article in The National Tribune (Washington, District of Columbia) · Thu, Jul 28, 1892 · Page 5

  • The Ouija was simply meant to be a toy, and was gotten out for the last Christmas holidays. It was a surprise that it took as well as it did and that the demand for them kept up so long. However it finally did seem to die out, but then the spiritualists discovered that it was just what is needed for the spiritual communications, and that it is better for them plan the planchet, as the opportunities for fraud are less with the Ouija.
  • The article goes on to describe what a Ouija board looks like, then:
    • This is the toy that amuses the young folks and serves to express the thoughts of the friends of the spiritualists.

 

There was an interesting story in an article from the Sun on September 14, 1892:

  • It tells the tale of a party in England where they were playing with the Ouija board. One of the attendees was a skeptic, and someone suggested that the skeptic ask a question mentally and see if the board answered.
  • The skeptic did, and the board said “A French joke.”
  • The skeptic said that was no answer, but someone said they should ask the board to explain. The board replied “What is ‘joke’ in French?”
  • They looked up the french word for joke, which is “plaisanterie”
  •  At that, the skeptic leapt up in surprise, saying: “I asked this question in my mind, and not a soul in the room could possibly know what it was.” The question had been “What horse will win the Cambridgeshire?”
  • Plaisanterie was one of the horses favored to win that race.
  • Later, Plaisanterie did win the race. The article said that it’s unclear if anyone at the party won any money based on the prediction.

 

  • “SPIRIT MECHANISM. THE CRAZE FOR HAVING MESSAGES INDICATED BY THE OUIJA: Minds Upset by a Toy of Wonderful Possibilities if All Stories be True—The Ouija and the Planchette Compared—The Espirito Board.” June 28th 1892. Manitoba Daily Free Press, Winnipeg, Canada:
    • This article talks about how Ouija started as a fad toy for the 1891 holiday season but by 1892, it’d been adopted by spiritualists.
    • “According to some of the enthusiasts, the spirits have taken to the ouija with marvelous zeal. The planchette was utterly discarded.”
    • It talks about the differences between Ouija and planchette, and says:
      • “The planchette created a great furor, but the exposers of the unscrupulous operators destroyed the popular interest in it, although Spiritualists generally yet give it credence. . . .
      • Some say that there is less chance of fraud with the ouija than with the planchette, while others maintain the opposite. Those who have faith in it tell marvelous stories of the operations of the ouija. They say that intricate questions, prepared by strangers to the operators, and known only to the former, have been answered correctly and rapidly.
      • The intense excitement that accompanies many of the ouija demonstrations has resulted seriously in a number of instances. Reports from various parts of the country where the ouija has been taken up how that a number of believers have had their minds upset by the nervous excitement. A recent dispatch from Liberty, Ind., said that John Chapman and his wife, a prosperous couple of that town, had gone stark mad because the ouija demonstrations had overexcited them.”

 

I found this story on the museum of talking boards website:

  • Two Liberty residents, a Mr. John Chapman and his wife became “over excited” while participating in neighborhood Ouija demonstrations according to 1892 Indiana newspaper reports. Panicked, they locked the children in their rooms and destroyed nearly all the furniture in the house. Concerned police found Mrs. Chapman, a minister’s daughter, cutting circles on the walls of her room. Mr. Chapman was doing the same with a scythe. Carpets in the home had all been slashed into small strips and knives, hatchets and other “deadly weapons” were found lying about. Mrs. Chapman explained that Horace Greeley had contacted her during a Ouija session and commanded her to convert the world to Masonic principles. It was unclear how their actions were going to accomplish this.

 

  • From The Marion Times-Standard (Marion, Alabama) · Fri, Aug 17, 1894:
    • This is just nice:
      • One of the most enjoyable entertainments it has been our pleassure to attend was the moon “lit” picnic at the residence of Mrs. West’s on last Wednesday night. Ice cream and cake were served in the dining room at any hour you wished it, and altogether it was a most pleasant affair. One of the most prominent amusements of the evening was the Ouija board. It afforded much pleasure to young folks, especially your correspondent answering questions and most of them correct. It was a late hour when one and all began to seek refuge under the shelter of their own roofs with the thought lingering in their minds of the evening just past being one of the most pleasant ever spent in the annals of West Perry.

 

  • From a story The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Oct 11, 1896 · Page 23:
    • This is from a feature called “Ouija’s Séance”
      • The Ouija board is an innocent looking thing in itself, but the members of a certain Brooklyn family have reason to believe that, like many other innocent appearing things, it is an instrument of Mephistophelian ingenuity and consequence. Of course, the craze for this creaking three legged stool, with its alphabetical habit . . . Has almost died out, yet the particular board in question had only recently been bought before it was burned with appropriate ceremonies.
      • There are several references to Faust in this article.
      • The article’s about a well-off Brooklyn family who play with a Ouija board for the first time. It gives them some predictions about the upcoming presidential election, saying McKinley will win, and then their session’s interrupted by the doorbell.
      • They get a servant to get the door, and in the meantime, they ask the board who the visitor was. The board spelled out “WAJ”
      • The guest was a Mr. Johnson, and it turns out his initials were WAJ.
      • Though the family was impressed by the board, Mr Johnson declared the Ouija was a fraud.
      • The Ouija board spelled out “Mr. Johnson is an ass.”
      • Then, the board said that Mr. Johnson was in love with one of the daughters in the family.
      • There’s a great quote from this:
        • Now, as a matter of fact, any one who has ever possessed one of these boards will know as a love makrer it is irrepressible. A full moon, a babbling brook and all the other accessories of a short story writer are simply nothing compared to the Ouija as matchmaker.
      • The article reports that Mr. Johnson left the house muttering “Rot, superstition, fool board, etc.”
      • Then they went back to the board.
      • Two of the daughters were at the board, which said that one of them was sweet but too conceited. Then it said that the father drank too much, and the mother, who was watching but not at the board, got mad and accused the daughters of pushing the planchette.
      • So then the mother went and put her hands on the planchette, and the board quickly spelled out:
        • You are a gibbering old woman. It is you who drive your husband to drink. You are–“
      • Then, before it could finish the sentence, the table fell over, almost causing a fire when the lamp toppled off, but luckily the father caught it just in time.
      • The mother started yelling at the daughter and at the board. When she finally sat back down, as soon as she put her hand on the planchette, it zoomed to “Goodbye”–the article claimed that the mother’s hand was almost dislocated.
      • They kept trying to use it, but every time, it went straight to goodbye. They’d insulted the board.
      • So they went to bed, leaving the board out on the parlor table.
      • The daughters snuck out of bed a little before midnight and had what the article called “a sentimental séance” where they learned that basically all of their friends were in love with them and wanted to propose. The board even claimed that one young man, who’d disappeared, had killed himself because he couldn’t decide which of the two girls he loved more
      • Then, right at midnight, the board sped up and things got weird.
      • The board said “Shakespeare” and then the girls quoted a sililoquy from Hamlet about “graveyards yawning and graves doing queer things”
      • The girls asked if the board had anything important to tell them, and the board said yet.
      • Then the board gave a specific date when their mother would die. The girls both fainted, and their father heard the noise (I guess from them falling over?) and came down angrily.
      • The next morning, the decided to burn the board.
      • As the date that the board gave them approached, the mother fell ill, but didn’t die.
      • The girls thought that maybe they’d remembered the wrong date, so they bought another board and tried it again at midnight.
      • It turns out they had misremembered the date–they’d been a week off.
      • Their mother got sick again, but still didn’t die.
      • The article ends wondering if the prediction that McKinley would win was right, but notes that the neighbors’ board said that he wouldn’t win, so it was a draw for now.

 

 

  • A Singular Case of Dementia. St. Louis Globe-Democrat (St. Louis, Missouri) · Thu, Apr 14, 1898 · Page 13
    • This article is subtitled: Miss Bella C. Thomas a Victim of Christian Science Study
      • It’s about a schoolteacher named Bella C. Thomas. The tone of this article is a little different to me, but I can’t quite figure out why. The tone is pretty reasonable, talks a lot about Bella C. Thomas’ family and past, etc. It might be that the woman is a devout Christian Scientist and has been studying it a lot?
      • One reason why I wanted to bring up this article is that it’s about a black woman–I really feel like I haven’t found many articles about anyone aside from (presumed) white people using the board (usually “silly white women.”) I wonder if there was a racial or class element to people who were into Ouija boards, or if black folks and POC were just totally erased and/or not covered? It could be that a lot of Ouija related articles are society columns and writeups of rich people’s parties, so that could be part of it.
        • I will say that the article is obviously racist, and says stuff like:
          • Miss Thomas belongs to the most exclusive set of her race in the city, and was distinguished for her refinement of manner and her interest in physical studies.
        • Yikes.
        • But also, would she have gotten any kind of writeup, and such a . . . Relatively charitable one, by the standards of the time . . . If she hadn’t been a respectable schoolteacher?
      • So the article starts:
        • A singular case of dementia attributed to a too intense study of Christian Science in connection with the revelations of a “talking table” or Ouija board, has just come to light.
      • It continues, talking about how she’d started studying Christian Science a few years before, and believed in it very much. She has two sisters, one who lives in Chicago and is also a Christian Scientist, and another who lives nearby and is also a teacher.
      • A year before, their mother died, and a little after that, a beloved aunt died. Bella C. Thomas had taken care of her aunt during her illness.
      • So after the two deaths, Bella C. Thomas became even more interested in Christian Science, and apparently bought a Ouija board “to aid her studies.”
      • There isn’t really much of an explanation of how that would help her learn about Christian Science, but the article goes on to say that she got some really impressive answers from the board, which really made her believe in it.
      • The article said she was getting messages from the spirit world, and she got some bad news. To read a bit more:
        • One message . . . Brought much sadness to her, and that was that she would not live long, and must prepare for her entry into the spirit world. Miss Thomas was never very robust at any time, and brooding over the thought of her early demise, given to her by the Ouija board, caused her to beocme still more delicate . . . And spoke of her early death as a certainty.
      • So the previous Monday, she taught her classes as usual and seemed fine, but started feeling realy bad when she got home.
        • A short time after getting home she was taken with delirium and talked of the Ouija’s message in a flighty way, which alarmed her friends.
      • Her sister who lived nearby took her to their other sister’s place in Chicago “for a change of scenery” and the article concludes:
        • It is not thought her trouble is more than a temporary indisposition, caused by study and overwork, and that a few week’s rest will restore her to her usual health and spirits.
      • So this article feels way more thoughtful than a lot of the others–despite its obvious issues. I also like that it gives you a slice of this woman’s life, and you get to see her family and friends supporting her. And she isn’t labeled a hysteric or anything, they’re basically just saying she’s burnt out and needs to recover.
    • As a sidenote, I did try to figure out what Ouija had to do with Christian Science, and I wasn’t super successful. I did find an essay called Psychoanalysis: Its Value and Its Dangers that was published by the Episcopal Church in 1922 that says:
      • Freud is the author of a new gospel, and all psuchologists before him but children in the science; and its bitter opponents, who indignantly renounce Freud and all his works, and regard psychoanalysis as a fad to be classed with Christian Science, ouija board reading, and spiritism.
      • So it seems like Christian Science and Ouija were thrown together often.
        • I also learned that Christian Science came out about the same time as spiritualism and the Ouija board. Christian Science was founded in 1879,  and for a while it was the fastest growing religion in the US: it went from 9,000 members in 1890, to 60,000 in 1906, and then to 260,000 at its height in the 1930s. But especially around the beginning of Christian Science, its founder was sometimes accused of spiritualism.

 

 

Kennebec Journal — Maine, October 2nd 1903–this seems kinda tongue in cheek to me:

  • “A young couple in Portland are about to be married as the result of the work of the wonderful ouija board. At least, the Advertiser figures it out that they may get married for the ouija board gave her his name as that of her future husband. At that time she had never heard of him. Since then she has inspected him from a distance, and the flutter of her heart tells her that the ouija board is a glorious institution. He has heard the story and is deeply interested. Mutual friends are now plotting to bring them together and Cupid may be trusted to arrange the minor details that will remain. Great is the ouija board.”

 

 One fun detail: apparently President Woodrow Wilson used the Ouija board, or at least said he did. Someone asked him in 1914 if he would be reelected, and he said “The Ouija board says yes.”

 

 

  • Customer letter from 1914 to William Fuld:
    • Dear Sir:
    • About a year ago I was given one of your Ouija boards by an old lady who had it for many years. I became very much interested in it. At first it required two persons to get any writing then I could get it alone. Now for a long time I have let no one touch it but myself. I simply lay it on a table and with one hand. It begins writing at once and and very rapidly just as fast as I can read it. To me it is a marvelous thing most wonderful. It has gone back over my life as the film of a moving picture would be unrolled and has explained so many things to me to me that I did not understand that have happened in my life. It tells me nothing of the future only that I must be patient, and all will come as I wish.
    • I am writing this to ask you if you could tell me any more about it confidentially of course. Does “Ouija” mean Jesus?
    • It seems to me that I went from plane to plane, each time I seemed to know was a better spirit writing until now I feel there is a most high one. I have had many friends buy them. But tell them to go to them in love and veneration as one would go in the presence of something most high and good. They all have found it most wonderful. Please pardon this long letter from a stranger and allow me to thank you for many hours of great peace and happiness brought to me though this Ouija.
    • Louise W. Ingram

 

And I thought that was a nice note to end it on. Next time, we’ll be talking Egyptomania, and then we’ll go onto actual Ouijamania, which started in earnest during World War I.

19th Century Ouija Board Sources

Websites about 19th Century Ouija Board Stories

Historical articles and advertisements about 19th Century Ouija Board Stories

  • Read the Witch Board. The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Sat, Jun 5, 1886 · Page 5
  • Cleveland’s Witch Board. The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Wed, Jun 16, 1886 · Page 1
  • The Memphis Appeal-Avalanche (Memphis, Tennessee) · 3 Apr 1892, Sun · Page 10
  • A Novel Party. The Glen Elder Sentinel (Glen Elder, Kansas) · Sat, Mar 27, 1897 · Page 3
  • Communicating With The Dead. New-York tribune. [volume], November 03, 1907, Page 12, Image 36
  • County News. The Marion Times-Standard (Marion, Alabama) · Fri, Aug 17, 1894 · Page 1
  • Ouija’s Predictions. The sun. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]) 1833-1916, September 14, 1892, Page 5, Image 5
  • Ouija’s Seance. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Oct 11, 1896 · Page 23
  • The National Tribune (Washington, District of Columbia) · Thu, Jul 28, 1892 · Page 5
  • A Singular Case of Dementia. St. Louis Globe-Democrat (St. Louis, Missouri) · Thu, Apr 14, 1898 · Page 13
  • Florence Bulletin (Florence, Kansas) · Fri, Jan 27, 1893 · Page 3
  • “SPIRIT MECHANISM. THE CRAZE FOR HAVING MESSAGES INDICATED BY THE OUIJA: Minds Upset by a Toy of Wonderful Possibilities if All Stories be True—The Ouija and the Planchette Compared—The Espirito Board.” June 28th 1892. Manitoba Daily Free Press, Winnipeg, Canada: https://www.williamfuld.com/ouija_articles_06281892.html
  • Fortune Telling Made Her Crazy. Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, New York) · Sat, Nov 21, 1891 · Page 1
  • CRAZED THROUGH “OUIJA”: Neglected by Her Lover She Seeks Comfort of a Fortune-Telling Device. November 21st 1891. Boston Daily Globe: https://www.williamfuld.com/ouija_articles_11211891.html
  • Kennebec Journal — Maine, October 2nd 1903: https://www.williamfuld.com/ouija_articles_10-02-1903.html

Books consulted RE: 19th Century Ouija Board Stories

  • “Psychoanalysis: Its Value and Its Dangers” by Jared S. Moore. The Influence of the Church on Modern Problems. Episcopal Church. Church Congress. Macmillan, 1922.
  • Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin (for some info on Christian Science and Ouija)

Check out the shownotes for the rest of the series to see all of the sources used.

Listen to the rest of the Ouija board series:

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