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Baltimore’s own Ouija board gets a tribute

It’s Baltimore’s fate that we often say goodbye to businesses that got their start here but were subsequently purchased by bigger entities with deeper pockets.

One that got away from us was the Ouijaboard, the game that believers felt could predict the future.

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The board’s last home in Baltimore was a brick structure at 1318 Fort Ave. in Locust Point. Situated between Federal Hill and Fort McHenry, the old Ouija board factory has been a movie theater and Pfefferkorn’s coffee roasting operation.

The Fort Avenue building has been newly refurbished by Southway Builders as its headquarters in time for the contractor’s 30th anniversary. The general contracting firm is responsible for numerous Baltimore neighborhood revival projects, including Remington Row, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in West Baltimore and the new Lexington Market.

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William H. “Willy” Moore said, “Southway has had the benefit of working on some very cool Baltimore buildings.”

An actual Ouija board enjoys a place of honor in the entrance to Southway’s offices in a just installed line display. Accompanying it are tributes to the old neighborhood movie house that once entertained Locust Point patrons and photos of the Pfefferkorn coffee years.

Southway Builders, located at 1318 E. Fort Ave., was once home to the Deluxe Theater and the Ouija board game (displayed in a corridor.) November 23, 2021
Southway Builders, located at 1318 E. Fort Ave., was once home to the Deluxe Theater and the Ouija board game (displayed in a corridor.) November 23, 2021 (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

The most obvious reminder of the old Deluxe Theater is a fading painted wall on the Lowman Street side of the building. It’s never been painted over and the letters are now faint: “Deluxe Theater – Modern Air Conditioning.”

Film historian Robert K. Headley says there was a movie house named the Flag (a reference to the Star-Spangled Banner) established here in 1913. The place was rebuilt in 1929 as the Deluxe and that reincarnation lasted until a fire destroyed the interior in 1959.

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Once the fire damage was repaired, the Ouija board arrived for what was the last chapter of the game’s life in Baltimore. The board was invented at 529 N. Charles St., south of the Washington Monument.

It was first manufactured in downtown Baltimore on St. Paul Street and its factory later occupied the Vitrano-Fava produce building on South Charles Street and was later in today’s Little Italy.

William Fuld, one of the game’s original investors and employees, made the board exclusively from 1901. He also built a large toy and game factory at 1508 Harford Ave. in 1919 next to the popular Apollo movie house.

The Baltimore Sun described Fuld’s Ouija empire as “more boxes of ouijas piled up waiting for shipment than you can shake a stick at.” Fuld, the board’s then owner, said he himself was not a spiritualist. No indeed, he was a good Presbyterian and had a pew in Dr. Harris Kirk’s Franklin Street Presbyterian Church.

A ghost sign is visible on the side of the building at 1318 E. Fort Ave., which is the headquarters of Southway Builders. It was once the Deluxe Theater. November 23, 2021
A ghost sign is visible on the side of the building at 1318 E. Fort Ave., which is the headquarters of Southway Builders. It was once the Deluxe Theater. November 23, 2021 (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

Experts say that by 1919, Ouija was enjoying a heyday of popularity, and the largest factory was Fuld’s Harford Avenue plant. It was said that Fuld followed the advice given by the board: “Prepare for big business.’”

Fuld enjoyed good sales, but not necessarily great luck. While replacing a flagpole on the factory roof, he stumbled backward and fell three stories in 1927. He was rushed to the old St. Joseph’s Hospital on Caroline Street, where he died.

He also made and sold wood wagons, pull toys, dollhouses and metal sand toys. His firm, now owned by others, moved on to the west side on Warwick Avenue, not too far from the Mrs. Ihrie’s potato chip factory. The Harford Avenue plant became Jacobs Brothers uniforms and is now a residence for senior citizens.

The Ouija board makers took over the former Deluxe property for a few years in the 1960s before the mega board game maker Parker Brothers, which already owned Monopoly and Clue, bought the rights and moved the manufacturing to Salem, Massachusetts. Pfefferkorn coffee, another old Baltimore business, took up residence.

So now the Ouija is gone, and the Deluxe is only a memory, but you can still smell Pfefferkorn’s coffee roasting. It survives in a larger location just up Fort Avenue.

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