Ouija boards and dial plates

I fell down a rabbit hole into the weird history of ouija boards and ended up at the insanely comprehensive online Museum of Talking Boards. There, I learned about a variation of the classical ouija, called "dial plate" talking boards. From the Museum:
Diag Today, we might consider a kitchen table a peculiar piece of equipment to use to speak with spirits. For the spiritualist mediums of the 1850's, it seemed quite natural. A table was an available and commonplace piece of household furniture and a natural gathering place for family members. It also provided an ideal contact surface for those performing a séance. It worked very simply: the sitters placed their hands palms down on the tabletop and asked questions of the spirits. The spirits responded by tilting the table and rapping a leg against the floor. One knock meant, "no," two knocks meant, "doubtful," and three knocks meant, "yes." For complicated messages, spiritualists either called out the alphabet and let the spirits knock at the appropriate letter, or they employed an alphabet pasteboard. A member of the group held up the pasteboard with one hand, and with the fingers of the other, passed them slowly over the letters. The spirits knocked when the fingers touched the desired letter. Although somewhat time consuming, it was a simple and effective way to spell out messages from the "Dearly Departed."

Some mediums believed that there might be better methods of interpreting messages than using tables and alphabet boards. Modeling their equipment after the new dial plate telegraphs of the period, the logic was plain: if you could contact the living using the telegraph, then why not the non-living? In 1853, a Thompsonville, Connecticut spiritualist, Isaac T. Pease, called his invention, suitably enough, the "Spiritual Telegraph Dial." Just a dial with letters arranged around the circumference and a message needle to point to them were necessary. There was no need for messy wires or electricity.
Dial Plate Talking Boards


  1. Wouldn’t even the dead prefer QUERTY?

    All I know is, when I’m dead and trying to contact my loved ones, they’d better not give me some touch-screen piece of crap. I need to type on real buttons for my spiritual modulation.

  2. i love the way that spiritualism keeps abreast of the times. the Fox sisters figured out they could crack their toe joints around the time the morse telegraph was becoming widely used. mediums claimed that their spirit guides had trained as telegraph operators. then the spirits start to communicate by radio, then after WW II they talk to jurgensen and raudive on tape recorders.

    does anyone know of anybody collecting emails from the dead? or tweets?

  3. Spiritualism really took off during the early 20th century which is why Ouija boards became popular (Parker Brothers still owns the copyright btw, so you have to be careful how the term is used). Back in the 1930s or thereabouts, the high priestess of the movement was Pearl Curran who wrote entire books dictated to her by “Patience Worth”. There are still spiritualist/writers around but she was the most famous.


  4. “There was no need for messy wires or electricity.”

    No need for any sort of interface with reality, really.

  5. I am not sure how many of us believe in the spiritual world. Some things I believe and some things I don’t. I am curious of objects that we use today and to know if they had or used them in the past especially the 20th,19th,18th and even the 17th centuries. I enjoyed reading this article.

  6. Let’s be fair, spiritualism is perhaps as old as man. Going far, far back in time we seen beliefs of animism and other forms of spirituality. How about oracles from the ancient world? All forms of attempted (and probably faked) communication with the afterlife. It’s probably an in-built psychological need.

Comments are closed.