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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

The White House Hauntings

Every American knows about the White House and the role that it plays within our country and our government, also known as the Presidential Mansion, it is arguably one of the most iconic buildings in the entire nation. Surprisingly, despite its status within the nation, there are a great many people who are unaware of just how haunted the building and its grounds are. Considering the record of eye-witness accounts and what we would assume is their reliability, we found out just how much paranormal history this monument to American democracy has actually seen.

Spooky Misty White House

A Timeline of the Paranormal

White House History gives us a timeline for the account of lost souls and hauntings that this particular symbol of America and to be quite frank, there has been a lot of action surrounding the White House; after all, politics can divide families and close friends, they can incite rage and violent behavior, and they can even threaten the very security of the nation itself.

The War of 1812: The Unnamed British Soldier

There are still regular reports being made of an unnamed British Soldier who roams the White House grounds while holding a torch–it is said that his soldier perished upon the grounds during the War of 1812.

United States President Abraham Lincoln

United States President Abraham Lincoln

1860-1870’s The Death of Willie Lincoln

Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln had four sons, only one of whom–Robert Todd–survived to see adulthood; their son Edward passed away at the tender age of four and Willie, who fell ill during his father’s first presidential term, died of a fever. While grieving over her son Willie’s death, Mary Todd began to delve into her spiritual interests and started holding spirit circles and seances in the Red Room of the White House. During the height of the Civil War, spiritualistic practices became quite popular, due to so many families seeking comfort from the loss of their loved ones. At the behest of his wife, Abraham attended two of the sessions, but was not entirely satisfied with the results, and could be found weeping at Willie’s crypt for hours. The Lincoln’s third son, Tad, passed away at age eighteen after his father’s assassination. Their third son died after Abraham had already been assassinated. To this day, it is claimed that Abraham’s ghost still appears in the Lincoln Bedroom and the Yellow Oval Room. Some notable witnesses to his apparition were First Lady Grace Coolidge, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as well as Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands. As far as Willie? Well, the last time Willie’s spirit was witnessed was in the 1870s by the administration of the White House.

During the 1860’s Mary Todd Lincoln would reportedly hear the ghost of Andrew Jackson stomping and swearing, while he is otherwise said to be hanging out in his bed in the Queens Bedroom laughing heartily.

During Andrew Johnson’s presidency, he was reportedly visited multiple times by Anna Surratt who was there to beg for a pardon on her mother’s behalf, her mother was Mary Surratt, a conspirator for Lincoln’s assassination. Years after her death, her ghost can still be witnessed banging on the doors of the White House in desperation for a pardon for her mother.

1901-1904: Jeremiah Jerry Smith

Smith began working at the White House during the late 1860s during the Ulysses S. Grant administration, his career lasted around 35 years before he retired. His accounts of the ghosts of Lincoln, Grant, McKinley, and several of the first ladies were always a media go-to on slow news days.

1911: The Thing

An apparition that terrified the Taft administration and domestic staff in 1911, was one of an unidentified fifteen-year-old boy; even Major Archibald Butt, the military aid to President Taft acknowledged the ghost, saying it was, “a young boy about fourteen or fifteen years old … they say that the first knowledge one has of the presence of the Thing is a slight pressure on the shoulder, as if someone were leaning over your shoulder to see what you might be doing.” It was after this point that President Taft ordered Butt to make the White House staff aware that they would be fired if they ever repeated stories about the Thing.

Modern Sightings

These days the random apparition is still experienced by White House Staff and administration, though some administrations may be less forthcoming about these sightings. Thomas Jefferson, for example, is seen and heard playing his violin in the Yellow Oval Room, while Dolley Madison is said to protect the Rose Garden. John Tyler haunts the Blue Room where he proposed to Julia Gardner, his second wife. William Henry Harrison, the first president to die in the White House, haunts the attic and the smell of wet laundry and lavender are observed in the East Room where Abigail Adams hung laundry. David Burnes, the original owner of the land on which the Presidential Mansion now stands can be both seen and heard in the Yellow Oval Room.