by Chris Clemens
Upstate’s fascination with the spirit world has existed for as long as humans have lived here. The first half of the 19th century gave birth to a wild fire of religious movements and spiritual activity. Even today, some would argue that the spiritual landscape is still very unique. So, it’s probably no coincidence that a Ouija board collection has found its way in to the hands of one man in Schenectady.
Steve Brodt was born in Glens Falls, but after living in Georgia for a few years, he developed a fascination with old homes. The twenty-four year old now lives in Schenectady with his wife and runs an Instagram account called Historic.Homes. The account is a collection of photos depicting homes in various states ranging from perfection to abandoned disrepair.
But, old homes aren’t Brodt’s sole fascination. His penchant for discovering the spirit realm and paranormal activity have morphed in to a desire for collecting Ouija boards.
And, I find that fascinating.
Ouija Board History
First introduced to the world in February of 1891, the Ouija board was advertised as a “talking board”. Users place their hands on a tear-dropped shape device called a “planchette”. Then, a question is asked, and the device is moved, seemingly, by spirits. The planchette moves around a board featuring the alphabet, numbers, and the words “yes”, “no”, and “goodbye”. As the device moves around the board, an answer is spelled out.
When introduced, the board advertised an “interesting and mysterious” experience, and even claimed that users in the Patent Office had proven its authenticity. For only $1.50, anyone could use a Ouija board and communicate with the spirit realm.
The history of how the board came to be and how its brand developed over time is still just as mysterious as how it operates. Most historians agree that when the Kennard Novelty Company first introduced the Ouija board to the public, they were looking to monetize America’s fascination with Spiritualism. When the Fox Sisters first publicly communicated with the spirit of a murdered salesman in their home near Newark, New York, they set off a firestorm of both fascination and opposition to such practices. Much to the joy of Kennard Novelty Company, the fascination was easier to monetize than the opposition.
Since its inception, the Ouija board has become a respected method of spirit-world communication for Spiritualists. There are skeptics abound who claim the board’s operation is fueled by the subconscious of the users touching the planchette. Then there are those who claim the board has delivered experiences only explained by the intervention of the after world.
Regardless of your opinion on how the Ouija board operates, there’s no denying that a big collection of them is intriguing. I wanted to find out more about Steve Brodt’s obsession and what made his collection so unique.
By the way, all the Ouija boards pictured here are in Steve’s unique collection!
Q&A with Steve Brodt
How did your fascination with the paranormal start?
When I was 5 years old I spent the night at my grandparents’ house. During the night I was awoke by something poking my leg. I looked down at the end of the bed and clear as day I saw an older woman sitting on the side of the bed. She was poking my leg with her cane. The woman was heavyset, had a shawl over her shoulders, and wore a hat with a veil hanging over her face. I quickly realized this wasn’t my grandmother and in a panic, I pulled the covers over my head and never fell back asleep.
Early the next morning, my grandmother came in to check on me and wondered why I was already awake. I explained to her what happened and who I saw. She went into grandma mode, reassuring me that I just had a bad dream. But, I knew for a fact that it did happen and that I had truly seen this woman! I distinctly remember the bed being indented where she was sitting and can still picture her perfectly to this day.
Ten years later, my family was at my grandparents’ house for Christmas. My grandmother had recently put out an old family photo that I had never seen before. When I walked past it I froze when I saw the woman in the photograph. I grabbed the picture and brought it out to my grandmother and asked who she was. She said, “Oh, thats my mother, you never met her she passed away a short time before you were born.” Excitedly, I said, “Thats the woman who was on the end of your bed that night!” She even had the hat on with the veil like in the photo! My grandmother very nonchalantly said, “Oh, that makes sense, you were sleeping on her old bed frame that night, too”.
That experience got me thinking. I began wondering how that was even possible and what her reason was for waking me that night. Thats how my interest in the paranormal began. After years of watching television shows and researching the paranormal I founded the South Glens Falls Paranormal Society in 2010.
And, how did the Ouija board collection start?
There has always been a negative mindset regarding the Ouija board and to me that’s a little crazy. It’s just a board game no different than Monopoly! I love the history behind the boards and finding new boards to collect. My first board was actually gifted to me by friends after I shared that I wanted to grow my oddities collection. I received my first board in 2015, but now there’s 15 total.
Have you ever had an experience using a Ouija board that freaked you out?
Nothing yet! Along with my 15 Ouija boards I also own 3 antique wheelchairs from the early 1900’s, an electro-shock therapy machine, three headstones from the 1800’s, a bed from a cell in a haunted jail, an old autopsy table, and a few other odds and ends. Plus, with my line of work investigating the paranormal, when something goes bump in the night in our apartment I’m not sure whether to chalk it up to my Ouija boards, my other oddities, my 1820’s apartment, or just someone following me home from work!
How often do you use the boards in your collection?
Surprisingly I never use them. This is not out of fear or anything, thats just simply not why I collect them.
I collect Ouija boards for the history and the mystery that surrounds them. When I first started, I had no idea that there were literally hundreds of different brands, sizes, shapes, and colors.
Do any of the boards in your collection have any unique markings? (Something other than numbers, letters, yes, no, and goodbye…)
Yes! Many of the boards are much more intricate then people realize. There are many colorful boards with different shapes, characters, and designs on them. That’s the fun part for me, seeing how each brand set themselves apart from their competition and even their own past designs.
Are there methods for caring for boards so that they remain spiritually… in tact?
This all depends on who you talk to and what you believe in. To me, they’re simply a game. Do I believe that spirits can be attached to them and communicate through them? Sure. They’re no different than any other piece of equipment we use to communicate during a paranormal investigation. I do not believe that they are evil or dangerous in any way.
That being said, some people say when you’re done using a board, you have to say “Goodbye” by moving the planchette to that location on the board. Otherwise, the board stays “open” and you never know who might wander in!
Do Ouija boards have value? Like, if someone has one laying around, is it worth something?
Absolutely! Boards can be extremely valuable. There is a large number of collectors and they will pay top dollar for the rarer boards. I have seen some sell in excess of $700 each!
If someone wanted to start collecting Ouija boards, what would they have to know?
I would tell them to be prepared to spend some money. Collecting Ouija boards and oddities has become popular in recent years and that drives the price up on some of the more sought after boards. Always, always check antique stores, flea markets, garage sales, and estate sales! eBay is another great place to find different boards, but beware, the prices on eBay can get out of hand!
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens