Saturday, February 7, 2015

Awhile back I was invited to be a Visiting Artist Indiana University SE. It was a super interesting time and I got to meet great students and faculty!

During some down time I popped into the Joe Ley antique store in Louisville. Very cool place, and I found one of my prized possessions there.

An early 1900's William Fuld Ouija board and original Planchette.

(I framed it for preservation.)

As unique and great of a find this was, it was the back of the board that intrigued me the most. 

The instructions had been scratched off:
The text should read:

Place the board upon the knees of two persons, lady and gentleman preferred, with the small table upon the board. Place the fingers lightly but firmly, without pressure, upon the table so as to allow it to move easily and freely. In from one to five minutes the tablet will commence to move, at first slowly, then faster, and will be then able to talk or answer questions, which it will do rapidly by touching the printed words or the letters necessary to form words and sentences with the foreleg or pointer.

2nd - Care should be taken that one person only should ask questions at a time, so as to avoid confusion, and the questions should be put plainly and accurately.

3rd - To obtain the best results it is important that the persons present should concentrate their minds upon the matter in question and avoid other topics. Have no one at the table who will not sit seriously and respectfully. If you use it in a frivolous spirit, asking ridiculous questions, laughing over it, you naturally get undeveloped influences around you.

4th - The Ouija is a great mystery, and we do not claim to give exact directions for its management, neither do we claim that at all times and under all circumstances it will work equally well. But we do claim and guarantee that with reasonable patience and judgment it will more than satisfy your greatest expectation."

5th - In putting the table together wet the tops of the legs, and drive them firmly into the table. Care should be taken that they are firm and tight.

6th - The board should be kept smooth and free from dust and moisture, as all depends upon the ease with which the feet of the table can glide over the surface of the board. Rubbing with a dry silk handkerchief just before use is advised.

Strangely the most innocuous part of the instructions were removed, 5 and 6. Still, it spoke to me of frustration or a parent trying to obscure something they didn't agree with. If anything, I liked that the board had a history!

The original instructions would've looked similar to this:

Even better, there was a clear description on the board:

It's hard to read, but you can see Age 13, a name, address, and date: April 8, 1900.

The other inscription is fainter but with the numerous underlined marks, I knew it would be something worth reading.

What a great note!  There are so many fascinating narratives to draw from this.

Of course the words weren't all legible, so with a bit of googling using multiple combinations of what I thought I could make out, I was not only able to confirm the last name of Mersdorff, but the actual address.

Here is the house the young Mr. John attempted to contact the spirits at:

With a bit more, I found out it is now known as the Weist Home and is on the National Registry of Historic homes:

It is classic Federal structure located on a long and narrow lot, which is typical in Madison. Originally a frame house was built on the lot in the 1830’s and in 1840 Hamilton Hibbs purchased the property. Mr. Hibbs was a carpenter and a staunch supporter of his next door neighbor Senator Jesse Bright who held strong southern sympathies. In the 1850’s, Hibbs attached a double-brick walled two-story front onto the frame house. The new structure had four fireplaces, stone window caps and a front that was flush to the sidewalk. Only its Italianate box gutters (circa 1870) and its 9 foot Victorian front door (circa 1890) pay homage to “modernization” of the home’s exterior prior to 1900. For many years the home was known as the Mersdorff house as that family purchased it in 1896 and owned it for over 90 years.

A 1990’s addition to the back of the home removed the remaining frame structure, replacing it with a kitchen and an upstairs master bedroom and bath. Since purchasing the home, the Wiest’s have added a family room with fireplace on the first floor; an upstairs office; a covered back porch; and a Federal style outbuilding. They also remodeled the 1920’s upstairs bathroom. This year, they have remodeled the kitchen, replacing the cabinets with handmade bead-board cherry cabinets and have attempted to remain true to the house’s 160 year old heritage by ensuring that changes to the home compliments and preserves its Federal style.

The Wiest’s family heirlooms and antiques have been collected for over 40 years. They collect Kitchenalia which is cooking equipment and other items found in a kitchen and enjoy Madison memorabilia. They look forward to your visit. 

It looks like they host historic and community events there. I sent an email to them with the find, here's to hoping they get back!

Check out an image of a couple using a very similar board.  

The image comes from Robert Murch. There is a really great 99% Invisible discussing the history of Ouija board and William Fuld. 

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