Originally Posted on: February 15th, 2015
Shane! Hahn sits down with Robert Murch, chairman of the board of the Talking Board Historical Society.
H-P: You are known as the world's foremost collector, historian and expert on Ouija / Talking Boards. How did your interest in Ouija and Talking Boards come about?
MURCH: I was born and raised an orthodox Jew though I certainly don’t look like that now with a shaved head, tattoos and earrings! In any orthodox religion conjurers, ghosts, spirits, angels, demons all of that stuff are real and part of the lore so I was raised being pretty comfortable with the dead. My grandmother was insanely fun and she loved to sneak me into horror movies and Creature Double Feature films, everything my mom didn’t want me to see. In 1986 I witnessed Kevin Tenney’s Witchboard and I fell in love. I started collecting in 1992. I went away to college and while I was at the University of New Hampshire my roommates decided to rush for a fraternity. I knew if I followed them I wouldn’t graduate. One part of their rushing was a treasure hunt. They needed to find an old Ouija board. My Dad and I always went antiquing and flea marketing so I went home on the weekends and picked up a bunch. By the time I left UNH I had 10 different boards. I thought, how can that be? Isn’t there only one Ouija board? Back then, pre-internet, I had to go to the college library and every encyclopedia said Ouija came from another place. I thought, how could something everyone knows what it is, and most people have played with not have its origins defined? That set me off into a lifetime odyssey to discover where the Ouija board came from and how it’s changed over the last century and a quarter.
H-P: What would you say the difference between a Ouija Board you can get in the store made by Hasbro is compared to a real Spirit / Talking Board?
MURCH: There really isn’t one besides the name. Ouija was one of the first mass manufactured talking/spirit boards. In fact, in April 2015 Ouija celebrates its 125th anniversary, which we’re celebrating with OUIJACON in Baltimore where it was named and first manufactured. That’s the reason people often call all talking/spirit boards Ouija boards. It’s been around so long we use it generically. Ouija is brand and a trademark that’s been in continuous use since 1890 and is currently owned by Hasbro, Inc. It’s by far the most popular spirit board ever made. But, anyone can make a talking board and starting in 1886, that’s just what people did. All you need is a pencil, some paper and a glass. You can make them on wood, metal, whatever you fancy. What works better? Some people claim only authentic Ouija boards work while others say only homemade boards work because you put your own energy into them. Some say only the older boards work and others say you must buy a new one that doesn’t have anyone else’s energy attached to it. It’s really personal preference. Some are called to a board because of its artwork while the next person finds the artwork distracting.
H-P: Some would say spirits move the planchette on the Board, others would say it is something known as the ideomotor response where subjects involuntarily move the piece. Out of all your research, what would you personally say is the explanation behind the planchette moving when using a Board?
MURCH: The three most popular explanations as to why a Ouija board works are Ideomotor Response, Telepathy, and communication with something other than the people playing. Scientists believe what’s happening is playing Ouija allows your subconscious to come forward and answer the questions without you knowing it’s you pushing the planchette. Some psychics say that when more than one person sit at the board a form of telepathy is created and a link between them is made so they start reading each others mind. And then there’s the age old belief that when you place your fingers on the planchette and ask “Are there any spirits here” you’re opening a portal to the other side and communicating with an entity other than the people playing. That could be a spirit, a demon, anything that is not the people playing. In my over twenty years of research and having witnessed hundreds if not thousands of Ouija sessions I’ve seen many examples of Ideomotor Response, a few examples of what could be telepathy, and some I just can’t explain that made me feel like contact with the other side might be possible.
H-P: Being an expert and historian on this subject you were tapped by Universal to consult on the new film 'Ouija'. What did you feel you could bring to the film that would make it different than any other film or television show that has tackled the subject of Boards?
MURCH: Back in 2009 I watched Hasbro’s CEO Brian Goldner doing an MTV interview saying how Ouija was an unexplored brand for them and how he wanted to make it a movie. I immediately wrote him and he connected me with Bennett Schneir, then head of Hasbro Entertainment and a producer of the movie, who was head of division that was overseeing their brands being made into films. The project was on and off again and went through different scripts and directors. My role in consulting was to give Bennett Ouija’s history and how it’s evolved in pop culture. I gave them the myths and urban legends that we call Ouijastitions. You know, the only way to get rid of a board is to burn it, or bury it and sprinkle holy water on it. How if you try to just throw a board away it mysteriously returns. Then, there are the rules like never play the board alone or use it in a graveyard or risk possession. After generations of play, an entire lore has been created around the board and that’s why we call it the Mystifying Oracle. Belief is key. What you believe and how deeply you believe it is an essential ingredient to what’s behind the door that’s opened when you play Ouija.
H-P: As for 'Ouija' the film it tackles the side of Boards that unlocks "something bad from the other side" (as most stories of Boards do). Is this a misconception due to the Boards dealing with spirits and the dead or do you believe it is possible to unlock something bad when using a Board that would result in something beyond communication?
MURCH: If it’s possible to contact the other side then you can most certainly do it with a Ouija board. The real question is whether it’s possible to make contact with those who’ve passed over at all. But we WANT it to work. Death is the great equalizer. It’ll happen to all of us and most of us want to believe that our short time on Earth means something. That when we die we go onto something else. The fact that there might be a way to say the goodbye we didn’t get to say or mend fences after it was too late is powerful stuff. What happens after you die has been debated for thousands of years and it’s likely to be for thousands more. Ouija gives us all the chance to explore that for ourselves in a very hands on way.
H-P: Is there any crazy stories you have heard or been part of yourself that have made the film? And even if it didn't make the film would you like to share one?
MURCH: I think Stiles White did a fantastic job weaving into the movie many of Ouijastitions out there. And yeah, there’s plenty of true outrageous stories that involve the Ouija board like in 1886 a Witch Board was sent to President Grover Cleveland as a wedding gift and he received it at the White House. As early as 1891 people were claiming to have gone insane after playing the board. Ouija caused splits and feuds within its originators with one lasting 96 years. Over the years people have claimed they killed someone because the Ouija board told them to. Divorces, lawsuits, you name it. People have used the board as an excuse to do the most heinous things to each other. What makes all these boards so unique is that we give it so much power. We forget it’s us and something else doing the communicating. Whether that be with our subconscious, some form a telepathy, or with something other than us. The board is just the tool or telephone we’re using but when something goes wrong or scares us we blame the board. We place all the blame and responsibility of the communication on it and off of us. We make Ouija a third party creating something else entirely.
H-P: Did any of your personal Boards show up in the film 'Ouija' or were you just consulted solely on your knowledge of Boards?
MURCH: The only boards which show up in the movie are Winning Moves’ Ouija Classic, which appears at the very beginning, and a made for movie board that appears throughout the film. I’m STILL trying to get my hands on one of the movie prop boards! My input was strictly knowledge based and it was awesome to see some of the things we talked about make it into the movie.
H-P: How many Boards do you have in your personal collection?
MURCH: I have over 500 different boards in my collection. That doesn’t include variations or doubles. If you count them all you’re getting into the thousands. If that sounds overwhelming then check this out. I don’t just collect the boards. I collect everything Ouija and talking board related. Music, TV, films, plays, articles, magazines you name it. All these things help me paint the picture of Ouija through the ages.
H-P: I think that's all I have for you today, is there anything you'd like to add or something you are working on that you would like to add?
MURCH: The Talking Board Historical Society and I are hosting OUIJACON, which takes place April 23-25, 2015 in Baltimore Maryland.
OUIJACON will celebrate Ouija’s 125th anniversary in the place it was named and bring together talking board collectors, historians, paranormal experts, fans, and enthusiasts for a first-of-its-kind event that will feature talks, panel discussions, vendors, and an exhibit displaying some of the rarest and most valuable talking boards on the planet. Whether Ouija boards fascinate or scare the hell out of you, you don’t want to miss this historic event! For tickets and more information head on over to http://www.tbhs.org/events/ouijacon-2015/
If you want to know more about me and what I do head on over to www.tbhs.org and follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TalkingBoards Twitter @TalkingBoards and Instagram @TalkingBoards
Visit Robert Murch online: robertmurch.com