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Carroll County Times

Ouija offerings: Collector traces spirit board's link to Baltimore in temporary exhibit

BALTIMORE - He just wanted to learn more about Ouija boards.

That was it.

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Robert Murch, of Boston, didn't mean to become one of the world's leading experts on Ouijas. It just happened. Murch didn't intend to collect more than 300 Ouijas. But he did. Murch never expected to help a prominent family reconcile due to his research. Yet the family is friendly once again.

Nearly 20 years after purchasing his first Ouija board while attending college in New Hampshire, Murch is in Baltimore this week, one of his favorite cities to visit. He will spend this evening at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, where he will be surrounded by fellow Ouija aficionados eager to hear him speak about the spirit board's history in the city.

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Murch is the mastermind behind "Let The Spirit Move You: Ouija, Baltimore's Mystifying Oracle," on display through January at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. The temporary exhibit features decades-old Ouijas on temporary loan from some of the world's most vast collections, including Murch's own.

Murch, the cheery, enthusiastic Ouija historian and founder of

, is admittedly obsessed with the simple parlor game that some believe has the power to conjure spirits.

He will be discussing Ouija's development in Baltimore during a reception from 6-9 p.m. tonight. He will be joined by Brandon Hodge, a Texan who will discuss how the spiritualist movement helped pave the way for Ouija boards gaining popularity. Hodge, a collector of spirit communicator Planchettes, has always been fascinated by seances and ghost hunts.

"There is a spirit communication craze that predates the Ouija craze by a little over 40 years," said Hodge, who has some of his personal collection on display in the exhibit.

When Murch started researching Ouija boards and their origin, he quickly realized he faced a significant undertaking. Not many details were out there. He couldn't even find photos of Baltimore entrepreneur James Fuld, who was responsible for helping fuel the Ouija craze in the early 20th century.

So he started making trips to Baltimore, hoping to learn more about the city's mysterious connection to Ouijas, where users try to talk to spirits by utilizing a Planchette across a board with letters and numbers to get answers. He created a Website with the information he found and wound up getting unintentionally involved in a 97-year-old Fuld family feud.

At first, Fuld and his brother Isaac worked together creating Ouijas. Both signed a three-year agreement in 1898 with the Ouija Novelty Company to manufacture and sell them. Three years later, for reasons Murch can't discern, Ouija renegotiated exclusively with James, making him the sole manufacturer.

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The brothers had a falling out and never did reconcile. They battled in court. Isaac made his own brand of Oriole Ouija boards. Descendants of Isaac and James kept their distance until Murch intervened.

He got emails from both sides of the family in 1997 after creating a Ouija board Website. He encouraged Kathy Fuld, William's granddaughter and Stuart Fuld, Isaac's grandson to reconcile. They did. Kathy and Issac will be on hand for tonight's discussion, the longtime family rift behind them.

"It's an honor but it's a strange feeling when you become part of the history you are trying to catalogue," Murch said. "As a researcher, you always try to stay back so it becomes odd. But to this day, they are very good friends. I stay with them when I go down to Baltimore."

He visits often. He has to in order to learn more about Ouija's history. Many of the earliest boards were made in city factories. He's discovered at least 11 sites in the city where the boards were created. One of them is now designated as a city landmark.

Murch wants to one day open his own museum. He certainly has enough material. His collection includes several Fuld wood boards still in excellent condition, their letters and numbers easily readable.

In the meantime, he wanted to create a temporary exhibit, figuring few Baltimoreans knew the connection between their city and a once-popular form of entertainment. He made pitches to museums for years and kept getting rebuffed due to the negative connotations the boards have. Some are still spooked by the mere presence of Ouijas.

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The Baltimore Museum of Industry agreed to assist. The temporary exhibit has generated considerable interest, said Catherine Scott Dunkles, the museum's collections manager, from both Ouija collectors and national media outlets, including a visit from a "CBS This Morning" film crew earlier this week.

She credits Murch for putting it all together. He already had much of the text in the exhibit written. All that was needed were a few display cases.

"He's the type of person who you want to help," Dunkles said of Murch, mentioning his eager temperament.

The Baltimore Museum of Industry exhibit, which also includes mini pool tables and other toys William Fuld manufactured, is the culmination of years of work for Murch, which introduced him to new friends and knowledge about a part of Baltimore few had researched before.

"This is a fantastic exhibit because it is a lot of collectors," he said. "I was able to get a lot of some friends and other collectors to put in some of the most rare and unique pieces in Ouija history. You'll never see them together again."


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