You most likely know someone who has tried to communicate with the dead before – a friend that has visited a medium, or a cousin that hosted a seance. Or maybe you once sat down with a Ouija board yourself and tried to hear from the other side. Well, those actions and machines designed to speak with ghosts have a history like anything else, and that’s exactly what this cool mini-documentary, “Ghosts and Gadgets: Communicating With the Spirits,” takes a look at.
This video isn’t a debate about whether or not ghosts are real, but rather a look at the past of the devices created to speak with the dead, as well as the reasons for their growth and popularity, told by Brandon Hodge, a collector of these very items.
The most discussed machine in the video, probably because it seems like the most popular device ever made for this purpose, is the planchette. If you’ve never heard that word before, you are still most likely aware of what one looks like, and may have even tried one, because a Ouija board uses a variation of a planchette.
A planchette is a small, flat board with two wheels, that also has a pencil as a kind of “3rd wheel,” that “writes” out messages from the dead. For 15 years these devices were serious items used by mediums and communal seances, but eventually they became popular in much the same way as a yo-yo, something much lighter and more fun.
Maybe more interesting than how the devices were designed or used is why they were used. Hodge says that the origin of them is closely tied to the use of the telegraph and electricity, which were new and exciting and not completely understood. Also, the popularity of items like planchettes seemed to rise and fall with the onset of war. With so many deaths at one time it makes sense that more people would be looking for some way to communicate with loved ones lost, especially people that passed away so far from home.
Another fascinating little item, that would itself make for a great documentary, is the one about Dr. Robert Hare, a popular figure in his time who originally set out to debunk the idea that anyone could communicate with the dead, but who then became a believer. Hare began making his own devices, including a “spiritoscope” we get to see. Hodge compared the transformation of Dr. Hare to how it might be if Neil deGrasse Tyson came out on Cosmos and said heaven is real.
Trying to speak with the dead was not a new concept when these devices began to become popular. Greek mythology is full of tales about trips to Hades to speak with deceased loved ones, like poor Orpheus and Eurydice, but the growth of actual, tangible items that could be held so that actual, tangible communication could happen was a development that arose from its time in history.
We might be believers or we might be skeptics, but these devices do tell us something about us.
Have any good stories about speaking with a ghost? Communicate them with us in our comments section below.
Image: YouTube/Morbid Anatomy Museum Presents