By R.A. Dyer
Just like Halloween in July — that’s how guests described the SAM 206 mid-summer meeting with talking board collector Brandon Hodge. The mysteriousplanchette.com website curator brought with him a number of fascinating objects — including an artifact owned by Joseph Dunninger himself — and spoke at length about the history of supposed spirit board communication.
“It was fascinating — really great,” said one attendee.
Hodge is widely recognized as possessing one of the greatest Ouija board collections in America. He has travelled extensively throughout America procuring the artifacts. He also has visited with still active spiritualist communities, pouring through their archives and respectfully interviewing members.
The fruits of much of that research can be found on his website, which includes both photographs from his collection and a detailed history of the spiritualist movement in America and abroad.
Hodge also spoke during his lecture of the well-known links between the spiritualist movement and stage magicians, such as Dunninger. Those in attendance gasped audibly when he produced a spirit horn once owned by the iconic magician. He passed the funnel-like device around for inspection, as well as other historic artifacts.
Hodge, a former behind-the-counter employee of a magic shop, said it was his fascination with performance magic that first peaked his interest in seances, Ouija boards and supposed spirit communication. Hodge also is a former member of the Society of American Magicians.
Hodge explained during his 80-minute lecture that spiritual experimentation became a popular pastime in America during the late 19th Century, beginning first with table-tipping but leading eventually to the popularity of talking boards. The first known use of an automatic writer occurred in Paris, on June 10, 1853, and the device was an upturned basket with a pencil attached to it. According to his website, the first message was: “I expressly forbid your repeating to anyone what I have just told you. The next time I write, I shall do it better.”
In America, the first person known to have manufactured a spirit communication device was Isaac Pease, of Thompsonville, Connecticut. His “dial-plate” board included a clock-like dial face with letters of the alphabet inscribed around the circumference. The world’s first patent for a talking board was granted to Adolphus Theodore Wagner, for a spirit communication device known as the “Pyschograph.” He applied for the patent in 1854.
In 1860, one year before the onset of hostilities during the Civil War, Boston bookseller G.W. Cottrell began manufacturing planchettes. But the devices didn’t sell particularly well, and it would not be until later that supposed spirit communication broadly captured the attention of the American public.