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From the Backstory Collection - 003 - Parker Brothers Ouija Board, 1967.

Updated: Sep 11, 2022

Left to Right: Dec. 9, 1967, Mrs. Ronald Gavito, 289 Muriel Drive, displays a Ouija Board and a Spirograph set, two of the most popular gift items for that Christmas season (Copyright - denver Post, Getty); Box illustration (detail); Box and board; Reverse of box (detail.) Below: The "Planchette."

"How much do you want for the ouija board?" "I don't know. Make me an offer." "Well, I only have two bucks on me..." "Perfect. It will save me from taking it back in and packing it away." Walking away from the garage sale, it was noteworthy how many people commented on my find, passing by. I guess folks are always curious as to what others have found. "Got yourself a ouija board, I see? Nice. I had one when I was in high school." My first introduction to this particular phenomenon was in 1978. My friend Richard told me about them, a tale confected with danger and foreboding. He told me about someone who knew someone who summoned the Devil using this device. "They went crazy, tried to kill themselves, and ended up in Park Prewett Hospital."

Funny, the name of that particular institution eructated from my subconscious in an instant. It was a mythical, shadowy place. Growing up, it was spoken of in hushed tones, as the terminus for those poor souls whose lives had veered off into an unprofitable divergence from the norm; unfortunates who had forayed into psychosis as a result of childhood trauma (along with those other numpties, those who haplessly summoned Babylonian demons through a particle board transdimensional messaging device.) It seems as though the ouija board's association with evil calamity was a hangover from the Exorcist, released several years earlier in 1973. Linda Blair's conversations with 'Captain Howdy' in the basement were a gateway drug to full-blown demonic possession, an innocent dabbling that ended up with a lotta pea soup vomiting, and much more besides. It has to be pointed out, however, that before the Satanic-panics of the '70s and 80s, messing with the ouija was seen as a rather harmless pursuit, a parlor game that burgeoned from the myriad malarkeys of the 1880's spiritualist movement.

Regan (Linda Blair) and Mom (Ellen Burstyn) break out the board - The Exorcist, 1973, Warner Bros.

From a graphic design point of view, the first thing that commands attention is the illustration on the box lid: a stark and unsettling image of a hooded figure whose left hand is raised, palm outward, in what almost seems like a benedictive gesture, a Hindu mudra. The overall style brought to mind the hi-contrast woodcut chiaroscuro illustrations of artists such as Rockwell Kent or Eric Fraser; this is a figure that, stylistically, seems to emanate from the earlier part of the twentieth century, yet one whose clothing denotes that of an earlier time, one of wandering wise-folk, of scrying and prophesying. As the Hermit of the tarot major arcana, this mysterious figure functions as a pivotal symbol of reflection and possible re-direction of one's life path. The pointillist stippling of the shadows along the arms and in the folds of the robe reinforces a sculptural, Art Deco styling. The titular typeface - a rounded, condensed grotesque with extremely open tracking - is highly proclamatory and has an air of Saturday morning cinema newsreel in its forthright whiteness: Ouija brought to you by British-Pathé. At a mundane level, this particular ouija board was brought to us by Parker Brothers, Inc., a concern, quite remarkably, headquartered in Salem Massachusetts - the self-same burg where, some two-hundred and fifty years prior, metaphysical phenomena held local burghers quaking in its vice-like grip for a little over fifteen months. The box was redesigned in 1972, employing a shogun-western slab-serif called Dante, accompanied by a tightly tracked Optima subhead. An intimate image of two pairs of hands is to be seen fingering the plastic planchette, wrists dissolving into an inky void. This is a vision of the ouija board as a post-fondue, date-night activity. A prelude to some very groovy carousing, amid the macramé.

Below: Parker Brothers Ouija, 1972.

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