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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

History of the Ouija Board: From the Civil War to The Exorcist

Ouija board
Photo by Josh Olalde

Horror Culture

Terrifying hands coming over a hill
Photo by Daniel Jensen

Most of popular horror culture will convince the easily misled that talking boards, specifically Ouija boards, are tools of evil. Movies like The Exorcist (1973) and Witchboard (1986) have painted a fairly devious portrait of talking boards, which previously held a sociable reputation. Prior to its debut in such classic horror movies, it was regarded as a game that could be played whilst on a date with a lady companion as an excuse to touch hands, in an era where it was otherwise forbidden for courting couples to touch. With much of the history of the Ouija board still unknown, due to a he-said-she-said origin of who the creator of the official board really was, what is known is quite a bit more vanilla that what might be expected.

Horrifying History of the Ouija Board

There are so many different theories of when they came to be such a popular object, one of the most well-regarded of which is that the Ouija board made a huge splash in the market directly following the Civil War. There was a large movement of spiritualism, with so many lives having been lost there were a lot of unmarked graves and soldiers who merely never returned home. Their loved ones wanted a way to get the answers they so desperately desired, even if it was just to know once and for all that their soldier was not coming home to them.

There really is no tangible proof of when the first talking board was created or for what purpose it was ultimately created, so it continues to be a tool that is shrouded in mystery. Still, with all of the information that is available today about the innocent origins of the Ouija board, there are more convinced of its sordid nature than those who believe it to be a neutral tool. Those involved in occult practices, who either consider themselves mediums or spiritual readers enjoy using talking boards to either communicate with spirits of passed loved ones or to channel their own, often regarded as supernatural, gifts. When things are misunderstood, there is typically a sense of mistrust that follows along, skepticism is a normal reaction to things that defy logic and avoidance is an understandable reaction to things that create a sense of dread.

So—with all of that in mind, what is it about Ouija boards that continues to scare the uninformed into rebuking those who use them? Likely it’s the images that are conjured from the horror movies we enjoy so much; the idea of demonic possession and evil spirits can scare even the most skeptical mind into uncertainty when all of the lights are out.

Horror movies that have inspired our fear of Ouija boards:

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

Hood River Oregon’s Haunted Hotels

Haunted Hood River Hotel Side View
Haunted Hood River Hotel

Hood River sits in the Columbia Gorge along the Columbia river surrounded by fields, orchards, vineyards, and at the foot of Oregon’s tallest mountain, Mount Hood. “The area was inhabited by Native Americans when the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through on October 29, 1805. Here they found a campsite called “Waucoma,” or “place of big trees.” The camp was located near what became known as the Dog River.” – City of Hood River Website. The town was established in 1858 and was originally called “Dog River.” The Columbia Gorge is a wonder of nature unto itself stretching 80 miles and at times is 4,000 feet deep. The Columbia River that flows through the gorge near Hood River is notorious for windsurfing and kiteboarding. On any given day you can see the sails and kites littered about the massive river.

Scenic Map of The Columbia River
Scenic Map of The Columbia River

The quaint town of Hood River is an outdoor adventurer stronghold. Sprinter vans, mountain bikes, kite and windsurfers, and craft beer are everywhere. The town is home to about 8,000 people and it’s a blend of farmers, migrant workers in the summer working the vineyards, mountain sports enthusiasts, beer lovers, surfers, and about anyone else who loves outdoor activities.

The town is also the home of two of Oregon’s most haunted hotels. The “Hood River Hotel” and “The Columbia Gorge Hotel.” The Hood River hotel established in 1912 is now over 100 years old and the magnificent Columbia Gorge Hotel will turn 100 next year in 2021. After a century in business, these hotels have seen some life and even some death. The town was originally a major hub for trade before being discovered as an outdoor person’s hot spot. With hundreds of thousands of visitors a year there are stories to tell.

The Haunted Hood River Hotel

Haunted Hood River Hotel Front
Haunted Hood River Hotel Front Door, Hood River, Oregon

The original hotel named the Mt Hood Hotel dates back to 1888 which was strategically located near the train depot in the center of town. It is the oldest hotel in the city of Hood River. Local lore tells of the original owner Ola Bell still inhabiting room 319 even though she died in 1942. She owned the hotel for over 30 years and her ghost is said to still haunt the hallways. The haunting ranges from sheer terror guests have experienced such as mortal fear when entering a room and disembodied footsteps to less terrifying events such as doorknobs moving with no one in sight, phantom phone calls. The most horrifying account comes from a guest staying in room 310. The guest reported opening the door and becoming overcome with dread, this the statement left in their review of the hotel room ” I nearly knocked my poor daughter down trying to get out. Every hair on my body stood on end, every rational thought left my brain and all I could do was yell GO GO GO GET OUT GET OUT.”

The Haunted Columbia Gorge Hotel

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Haunted Columbia Gorge Hotel, Hood River, Oregon

The Columbia Gorge Hotel was built by Simon Benson, who was involved with the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway. Benson envisioned a hotel at the end of the highway and completed the Mission style hotel in 1921. The new hotel was built on the site of the previous Wah Gwin Gwin Hotel, built in 1904. Between 1925 and 1952, the hotel went through several changes of ownership.

The then-48-room hotel closed in 1952, when it was sold to the Neighbors of Woodcraft, a non-profit fraternal benefit society based in Oregon since 1905, and converted into a retirement home.It was sold again in 1978, with the new owners planning to reopen it as a hotel. After a $1-million renovation, the now-42-room hotel reopened in September 1979. 

In January 2009, the landmark hotel closed its doors again, due to foreclosure. The foreclosing bank later re-opened the hotel before selling it to Vijay Patel’s A-1 Hospitality Group in October 2009 for around $4 million. Between 2009 and 2012, the hotel underwent a major renovation. The hotel is currently open and you can take a virtual toor.

Haunting and ghost sightings within the hotel vary. There are sighting of a woman in White attire who allegedly committed suicide at the hotel, most recently sitting at a park bench on the ground. Scents of cigar smoke with no identifiable cause possibly related to a retiree who died on the premises when it was a retirement home. There are other sightings of a ghost of a child near an area that once held a pool. Room 330 has reports of another female ghost of unknown origin. Rooms have been found barricaded with no known cause and a man wearing a frock coat and a top hat been seen.

Recent guests report strange dreams such as this guest in 2020 “I saw a black mass hovering above my the nightstand next to the bed. In the dream, it started to smoke and the room started on fire due to this presence.” In 2018 Another guest reported, “I saw a human form walk around the foot of our bed and to my side of the bed, suddenly I couldn’t move or speak.” That was not the only guest who was left paralyzed in fear. Another man in 2016 reported “my wife said she couldn’t move, speak or open her eyes, she was in a frozen state. I woke up when something felt like tugging or sitting on the blankets on my side of the bed that sent tingles up my legs.”

Columbia Gorge Hotel Information Guide
Columbia Gorge Hotel Information Guide

The town of Hood River is beautifully nestled along the Columbia River Gorge. It is home to some of the best outdoor activities in Oregon but it also has a long and haunted history. It’s well worth a visit for ghost-hunters, historians, and anyone who visits the great haunted state of Oregon.

Want more Oregon haunted hotels?

Index
https://cityofhoodriver.gov/community/history/
https://www.columbiagorgehotel.com/
https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g51909-d114266-r605770471-Hood_River_Hotel-Hood_River_Oregon.html
https://thoughtcatalog.com/amy-venezia/2015/09/i-spent-a-night-at-the-columbia-gorge-hotel-after-i-heard-stories-of-its-haunted-rooms/
https://www.oregonhauntedhouses.com/real-haunt/hood-river-hotel.html
https://www.oregonhauntedhouses.com/real-haunt/columbia-gorge-hotel.html

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

Hoodoo, Horror, and The Skeleton Key

The Skeleton Key Movie Poster

A tragically underrated Southern Gothic style horror movie, The Skeleton Key (2005) has been given a bum reputation; a movie that is often overlooked movie within the horror genre, it’s actually worth watching at least once. Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) is a confident, yet sweet-natured hospice nurse living in New Orleans who grows frustrated with the general lack of compassion and care that her patients receive from the home at which she works. This frustration leads her to find a new opportunity wherein she becomes a live-in nurse for Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), an elderly man whose health has rapidly declined directly following a stroke. The wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands) seems reluctant to have Caroline there, insisting that she isn’t the right fit for the job.

After a discussion with the family estate lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), Violet finally agrees that since no one else will take the job, she’ll just have to settle for Caroline. After moving in, it becomes evident that there are disturbing things going on within this neglected mansion in the Bayou. Caroline only becomes aware of these peculiarities after the mute, wheelchair-bound Ben is found trying to escape the house during a storm. She begins to explore the house and comes across strange artifacts in the attic, where she was told Ben had been when he had the stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Suspicions further rise after she learns of the house’s mysterious past from Violet—that it originally belonged to a family that had lynched two African American servants that had a hoodoo room in the attic where Ben supposedly had his stroke.

Violet tells Caroline that the house still belongs to them, insinuating that their ghosts punished her husband for going into their sacred space, but that she refuses to let anything happen to herself. Caroline seems to never fully trust what Violet has to say and decides to investigate further by going to an authentic hoodoo shop to see what it’s really all about and find out if it’s possible for someone to recover after they believe that they’ve been cursed. Her distrust of Violet leads her to perform her own secret hoodoo ritual to try to reverse the state that Ben is in—which results in Ben regaining some ability to speak, immediately asking Caroline to help him get away from Violet.

Caroline walking down the hallway in The Skeleton Key
The Skeleton Key (2005)

It becomes increasingly clear to Caroline that Violet has been performing hoodoo on Ben and her growing belief that hoodoo is real causes her to try to rescue Ben from Violet’s evil clutches. When she’s unable to flee with Ben, she’s caught by Luke and it’s revealed that he has been Violet’s accomplice all along. The culmination of the movie comes when Caroline is somehow able to call 9-1-1, then her friend, where she proclaims that the hoodoo is, “all real,” before the line is cut. She inadvertently traps herself inside of a magic circle where it’s made clear that Violet is actually the female servant Mama Cecile and shortly thereafter, she turns on the recording of the Conjure of Sacrifice, which effectively switches their bodies.

It turns out that Papa Justify had previously been inhabiting Ben’s body and had taken over Luke’s body and after switching bodies with Caroline, Mama Cecile force-feeds Caroline (now in Violet’s body) a potion which induces the paralytic state that Ben had been in. The whole thing had been a trick to get Caroline to believe in the power of hoodoo—because after all, you must believe in hoodoo for it to work on you. Once emergency services arrive in the morning it’s also revealed that Violet had left the house to Caroline so that Mama Cecile and Papa Justify could remain in the home and continue their body-swapping plot as long as they desired.

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

How Friday the 13th Became a Renowned Superstition

Paraskevidekatriaphobia—do you have it? Well, if you’re irrationally afraid of the natural occurrence of the thirteenth of any given month falling on a Friday, then yes—yes, you do. If so, then you might have a hard time this year, since we’ve got two of them coming up. Friday the 13th, supposedly the unluckiest day of the year, occurs at least once, but never more than three times in a calendar year. March and November are the unlucky winners this year, so if you’re scared, arm yourself with some of these facts and prepare to understand your superstition better than ever before.

The Origin of the Superstition

Within western culture, there are many superstitions that circulate on a regular basis—Friday the 13th is but one example of a superstition that has become so well-known that it has been worked into the very fabric of horror culture itself. From walking under ladders to breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks, or having a black cat cross your path, it seems as if there is always something to be superstitious of—people even subject themselves to their own superstitions, such as wearing their favorite sports team’s jersey to increase the odds of their team winning. Regardless, it seems that people still choose to purposefully avoid black cats, sidewalk cracks, and treat mirrors with respect, especially on Friday the 13th—as if these superstitions, when combined escalate into something even worse. Dr. Phil Stevens, an associate anthropology professor at the University of Buffalo, suggests that it’s important to respect the convictions that people display about their superstitions, noting that, “sometimes these are frivolous things, but sometimes they are deeply rooted cultural fears … you can insult somebody by making fun of it or you can be ignorant yourself. Some people have deep cultural taboos that you cannot change by denying them.” The question that has long plagued people, however, is why do we subject ourselves to these blatant paranoias—how did these things evolve to being harbingers of bad luck, and why do we continue to pay tribute to these traditions year after year?

How Thirteen Became an Unlucky Number

According to Dr. Simon Bronner, a notable professor of American studies and folklore at Pennsylvania State University, Friday the 13th is just a “convenient milestone for people who are looking to trace bad luck to a certain cause,” but he always state that there really is nothing special about the date itself—in fact, in countries like Italy, the number thirteen is actually considered a lucky number! To be perfectly honest, it’s unclear how Friday the 13th became such a totem for bad luck, but the number thirteen itself has been speculated, to have been considered unlucky since the Middle Ages.

First mentioned in the English language, this day was first introduced as an unlucky happenstance in the biography of Gioachino Rossini, an Italian composer who died on—you guessed it—Friday, November 13th, 1868. It was further extended into superstition by Thomas W. Lawson, an American businessman who published a book titled Friday the Thirteenth, in which a crooked stockbroker takes advantage of this superstition to create wide-spread panic on Wall Street.

In Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York an analysis conducted by CityRealty presented findings that fewer than five percent of mid-rise and high-rise residential condo buildings have a thirteenth floor. Not to say that the thirteenth floor doesn’t exist—it’s just not labeled under the number thirteen.

Norse Mythological Origins

While not the most notable mythological origin, according to Donald Dossey, in Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun, a Norse myth told of a dinner party that was set for twelve gods, where the thirteenth guest—the god of trickery, Loki—crashed the party and shot Baldr, the god of joy and happiness. Thanks for all the bad luck, Loki.

The Last Supper

Folklore historians all agree that isolating the exact time when Friday the 13th came to be known as a taboo and superstition, many of them agree that it may have originated from the Last Supper. As popular mythology agrees, Jesus was crucified on a Friday—some speculate Friday the 13th, immediately after the Last Supper, attended by Jesus and his twelve apostles to a total of thirteen people at the table. The longstanding superstition within the Christian religion is that having thirteen guests at a table is a bad omen that, “courts death.” Dr. Stevens told TIME that “when those two events come together, you are reenacting at least a portion of that terrible event … you are reestablishing two things that were connected to that terrible event.” So what started with what happened in Christian mythology, this somehow led to the modern phenomenon that has Americans avoiding things that are labeled with thirteen. Room number thirteen in a hotel, the thirteenth floor, the thirteenth row in an airplane—all of these superstitions are attached to the number of people who sat at the table the night before the crucifixion. Bronner believes that there is, “a grain of truth,” to the theory of the Last Supper, but that there is, “not much of a connection to the modern belief … it may be a case of religious folklore that rose to explain a belief.” He further tells us how psychologists treat the fear of Friday the 13th as a real phenomenon, but he believes that it was a constructed belief that is convenient for people to place blame upon.

Oddly enough, the crucifixion wasn’t the only biblical tragedy that befell mankind on Friday the 13th—in fact, it’s said that the story of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden, the day Cain killed Abel, the Great Flood during the time of Noah, and the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel also took place on this fated day.

The Occult, Witches and their Covens

A long-standing myth that surrounds Friday the 13th puts a firm association with witches—likely another confirmation from the origination of this superstition from Christianity. For those that are not in-the-know, covens are said to be a formal gathering of witches who perform rituals together—a sort of religious or spiritual gathering, where they perform spells, rituals, or seasonal offerings to honor whoever they may worship. The Christian leaning of this is due to the witch trials where women were forced through torture to admit to things that weren’t necessarily true, stating that they were convening with the devil and attacking other members of the community to do his bidding.

What holds in the tradition of witchcraft is that a traditional coven recognizes twelve followers and a leader, which brings the total to—you guessed it—thirteen. In medieval covens, it is stated in The God of the Witches from 1931 that, “the number in a coven never varied, there were always thirteen, i.e., twelve members and the god.” In any case, the leader or god was always believed to be the Devil himself—or a man who represented the devil. This is of course, not backed by any substantial evidence from within the community of witchcraft practitioners, but instead considered more of an accusation from more mainstream religions such as Christianity.

The Thirteen Club

A New Yorker by the name Captain William Fowler made an attempt to remove the hardened stigma of the number thirteen in the late 19th century. In particular, his goal was to remove the stigma surrounding thirteen guests at a table—he attempted this vigorously by establishing a private society by the name of The Thirteen Club. As a general practice, this group dined on the thirteenth day of each month in room 13 of the Knickerbocker Cottage, which Fowler owned from 1863 to 1883. Before sitting down to dinner with twelve other guests, each participant of the club would pass under a ladder and a banner that read, “those of us who are about to die salute you,” in Latin. Notable members of this club were four former presidents of the United States of America, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and Theodore Roosevelt.

HMS Friday—The Urban Legend

An urban legend centering around the Royal Navy from the 19th century considers this the ultimate Friday the 13th legend—the story goes, that it was an attempt by the Royal Navy to dismiss the superstition against sailing on a Friday. While the details vary from telling to telling, they christened the ship HMS Friday; her keel was laid on a Friday, she was launched on a Friday, she set sail on her maiden voyage on Friday the 13th, and all of this under the command of a man by the name of Captain James Friday. After her launch, she was never seen or heard from again. While it’s a great story, the truth is there has never been a Royal Navy ship by the name of HMS Friday.

Staring up the stairs, in the darkness
Photography by Yang Miao

A Timeline of Disasters

  • October 13, 1307—officers of King Philip IV of France imprisoned and executed hundreds of the Knights Templar.
  • September 13, 1940—German forces bombed Buckingham Palace during WWII.
  • November 13, 1970—A cyclone in Bangladesh killed 300,000 people.
  • October 13, 1972—A Chilean Airforce plane disappeared in the Andes mountains, sixteen survivors turned up two months later, having been forced to cannibalize the dead in order to survive.
  • February/August 13, 1976—(no we’re really not sure which month) Daz Baxter a New Yorker with a raging case of paraskevidekatriaphobia decided to ride out his least favorite day of the year by staying in bed; his bad luck was illustrated when the floor of his apartment block collapsed that day and he fell to his death.
  • October 13, 1989—Black Friday—a $6.75 billion buyout for the parent company of United Airlines caused the crash of global markets.
  • September 13, 1996—Tupac Shakur succumbed to his gunshot wounds six days after multiple gunshot wounds during a drive-by shooting.
  • March 13, 2009—the SAW ride at Thorpe Park in Chertsey was scheduled to open but was shut down due to computer failure.
  • January 13, 2012—the Costa Concordia cruise ship crashed off of the coast of Italy, killing 30 people.
  • November 13, 2015—ISIS organized seven simultaneous terror attacks in Paris, killing 130 people and leaving hundreds wounded.
  • April 13, 2029—an asteroid is rumored to come within 22,000 miles of Earth—what will happen?

Strange Friday the 13th Facts

There are of course strange facts surrounding any supernatural phenomenon or superstition, but Friday the 13th even more so—perhaps because more people pay attention to things that they’re afraid of, or perhaps because Friday the 13th is such a notorious date for strange occurrences. Here are a few—maybe more than a few—strange facts about the superstitions regarding Fridays.

  • In Somerset, if you turn a bed over on a Friday, you’re risking turning a ship over at sea.
  • In Cumbria, if a baby is born on a Friday, they immediately lay them upon the family Bible.
  • In some areas, if a doctor is called upon for the first time on a Friday, it is an omen of certain death.
  • According to English Folklore from the 1800s, a marriage conducted on a Friday is destined for an unhappy future—on the plus side, this superstition generally leads weddings conducted on Friday the 13th is substantially cheaper for couples.
  • If you cut your hair or nails on a Friday, you’re doomed for misfortune.
  • If thirteen people unwittingly dine together, the first to rise will certainly be condemned to misfortune—another fun fact attached to this one is that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was known to uphold this superstition almost religiously.
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt also refused to travel on Friday the 13th.
  • Winston Churchill refused to sit in any row that was numbered thirteen—cited in particular are rows on planes or theatres.
  • In North Carolina, the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute conducted a study that found a loss of $700-800 million every single Friday the 13th because people simply refuse to conduct their lives as they normally would.
  • If you’re brave enough to fly on what’s considered the unluckiest day of the year, you’ll find that prices are actually a little bit more reasonable.

Unlucky in Reality, but a Pop-Culture Boon

Just like anything in the horror genre—if it’s unlucky, scary, gruesome, or lies somewhere within the realm of supernatural, it’s bound to have a selling idea. The movie franchise Friday the 13th firmly placed the date into the greater arena of cultural recognition. Jason Voorhees, the star and villain of the franchise has inspired so many sequels, spinoffs and more that if you were to google Friday the 13th, you’ll get more results about the franchise than the lore that launched the idea for it in the first place.

Final Thoughts…

It seems that Friday the 13thmay only be a western superstition though—as it’s cited that in Italy, the number thirteen is actually quite lucky, instead they rather fear Friday the 17th. Personal curiosity causes one to wonder if the movie franchise of Friday the 13th should be renamed in countries like Italy, to make it more culturally relevant. In Greece, it’s not Friday the 13th, but Tuesday the 13th that causes people to be unsettled, whereas in China the number four is considered to be unlucky as it has a similar pronunciation to the word for “death.”

So, in the long run—is Friday the 13th really a day of bad luck? According to Dr. Caroline Watt at the University of Edinburgh, it’s actually the belief in the superstition that causes all of the kerfuffle to happen on this date. She appeals to baser instincts when she suggests that, “if people believe in the superstition of Friday the 13th then they believe they are in greater danger on that day. As a result, they may be more anxious and distracted and this could lead to accidents. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy … It is like telling someone they are cursed. If they believe they are then they will worry, their blood pressure will go up and they put themselves at risk.” With that in mind—are you still afraid of a naturally occurring phenomenon?