Salem Evening News
Chairman of the Board
Salem - When Robert Murch works for Fidelity Investments in Boston during the week, he looks like any other enterprising young businessman.
No one would suspect that on weekends, this easy going, soft-spoken Salem man lets the spirit move him, so to speak.
For the past eight years, Murch 27, has collected Ouija boards - also called talking boards - as a hobby. He's become obsessed by them, not playing them but amassing them. He now owns more than 300, some dating back to 1890.
Besides having arguable the largest collection anywhere, Murch is also an expert on talking boards, and has created his own Web site, www.cryptique.com.
He and his partner, Salem resident Gary Halteman, have even designed their own talking board game called Cryptique, which they claim is less scary to play. This week they started playing it on their Web site for $21.95.
Unlike some enamored with Ouija, Murch has never asked the board to determine his fate. In fact, it bothers him that some people believe that a game has the power to foretell their future or contact the dead.
"I'm very open to signs and feeling, pushing me to do things, but Ouija is an awkward way of doing it," he said. "If you know what the talking board really is, then you feel differently about it. Instead of becoming a tool for the devil or sounding board for troubled spirits, it's only a game."
Murch also uses his Web site to help board buyers ensure they didn't buy fakes. He includes tongue-in-cheek comments about the Ouija board, hoping to dispel its evil reputation, which he blames on Hollywood and movies such as "The Exorcist."
"Hollywood," he said, "turned the Ouija board into a doorway to the devil."
While he denounces the movie industry for for perpetuating the Ouija board's occult image, it nonetheless brought him good fortune. His reputation reached a representative of DreamWorks, Stephen Spieldberg's company, who contacted Murch in July of 1999 to seek his expertise on the subject.
The movie company paid him a tidy sum, which he didn't reveal, to rent 30 boards t use in the movie "What Lies Beneath," starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford.
During filming in Vermont, Murch and Halteman reported to the set as Ouija board advisors, and had lunch with the famous cast. Director Bob Zemekis even bought a 1901 board from from Murch for $900, and gave it to Ouija believer Michelle Pfeiffer.
"People claim the board can do evil, but it has only brought me good luck," he said laughing.
He said the game will be sold at the Salem State College bookstore, at Salemdipity, and the Trolley Depot in Salem. He is also talking with Borders book stores, Newbury Comics, a toy representative, and the Peabody Essex Museum to sell the game, and also lecture on the history of Ouija boards.
Murch said he doesn't believe the game has spiritual properties, but can't explain his obsession with them either. He doesn't consciously seek out Ouija boards. "They find me - they call out to me," he said smiling.
He started collecting while a student at at the University of New Hampshire studying special education.
Although he dropped out of college his junior year, he worked for a few years with autistic children in Hampton Falls, N.H.
"You burn out fast doing that." he said. He also realized that he earned more money in his summer job at Fidelity than he did teaching, so he went to work full time for Fidelity. His interest in Ouija and talking boards increased, and he kept buying them at flea markets and and antique stores.
Many of the versions he owns are exotic looking. One is green and round. Another large blue board has astrological signs all over it. Most are wooded, plain, with words and letters on them.
Because of his Orthodox Jewish background, Murch said he strongly believes in mysticism and spiritualism, but doesn't necessarily think a talking board "contacts the dead."
One time, while playing with friends, he felt the pointer move, but was convinced that somebody at the table lay a "heavier" hand on it.
Murch's apartment is decorated with antique framed magazine covers and artwork, circa late 1800's to 1940's. One shows two children playing the Ouija game on Valentines day to learn the name of their Valentine. Another is a Norman Rockwell cover of The Saturday Evening Post, depicting two people playing Ouija.
Murch has spent thousands of hours studying talking boards by meeting with descendants of Ouija board originator, William Fuld, of Baltimore. Kathryn Thomas, Fuld's granddaughter, who also lives in Baltimore, contacted Murch's Web site four years ago, seeking information about her grandfather who died before she was born. She and Murch have been friends ever since.
Also in 1997, Stuart Fuld, retired grocer and grandson of Isaac Fuld, William Fuld's brother, contacted Murch's Web site to learn more about his relatives. Stuart Fuld holds the original stencils used to create the Ouija game.
Murch hopes talking board's popularity as a game continues, noting is has survived more than 100 years. "Will Candyland survive that long?" he asked smiling. "Even Monopoly isn't that old!"
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