E. C. Reiche
Ernest Christian Reiche was once as much a mystery as the Ouija board itself. Today he is part of an elusive collection of tales and legends we fondly describe as Ouija Lore. Recently, with the discovery of new information, his life is coming into focus. E. C. Reiche is first mentioned in an article which appeared in the New York World Magazine written by Edgar Goodman on May 23rd 1920. This was later retold in “Ouija, Ouija, Who's Got The Ouija?” in the Literary Digest on July 3rd 1920. The article presents two theories on who invented the Ouija board. It claims that Col. Washington Bowie testified in court that either E. C. Reiche was the actual inventor or it could be attributed to Charles Kennard. However, after careful review of the court transcripts we find no mention of Reiche or any testimony of Col. Washington Bowie for that matter.
Col. Washington Bowie Sr., original founder of the Kennard Novelty Company, and his son Washington Bowie Jr., lawyer for many Ouija related cases are often confused for one another. Col. Washington Bowie Sr. did not testify at the trial, yet the articles seem to indicate that he did. His son, who made his life in the military, was recently promoted to Colonel thus creating the confusion. Bowie Jr., might have made these comments in his opening or closing arguments of the 1919 case of FULD vs. FULD.
Below is the excerpt from that article which has secured E. C. Reiche's place in the Ouija board's mysterious past and set us on a mission to uncover his connection with the Mystifying Oracle. To add another layer of confusion the two articles misspell Reiche as Reichie.
“Col. Washington Bowie, who was a leading figure in the company that originally manufactured the ouija board, narrated, while testifying in the case of Fuld vs. Fuld, that in the early part of 1890 Mr. E. C. Reichie, a cabinetmaker of Chestertown, Kent County, Md., invented the ouija board. In that year spiritism was in the flush of its early glory, and tables rapped and pranced on every side. Mr Reichie, although not a spiritist, noticed sympathetically that a large table was a heavy thing for a frail spirit to juggle about. His meditations, attuned to cabinetmaking, took a practical form. He devised a little table – the ouija board.”
Even with the sorting out of that passage it seems unlikely E. C. Reiche can be credited with the Ouija board’s invention. An article titled “THE NEW “PLANCHETTE.” A MYSTERIOUS TALKING BOARD AND TABLE OVER WHICH NORTHERN OHIO IS AGITATED” first ran in the New York Daily Tribune on March 28th, 1886. It describes how a new talking board craze swept Ohio some four years before the Ouija board's commercial launch in Baltimore, Maryland in 1890 patented by Elijah Bond. Yet, Charles Kennard, another Kennard Novelty Company founder and recipient of Bowie’s claim as inventor of the Ouija board, also lived in Chestertown at the same time and it is likely they knew each other. Whether or not there is any merit to the legend of E. C. Reiche inventing the Ouija board, it makes for a great mystery. Until his connection is clear, our research will continue. To date this is what we do know.
First and foremost we know he existed. Ernest Christian Reiche was born in Leipstadtt, Westphalia, Prussia on December 27th 1831. He immigrated to the United Sates in 1847 at the age of sixteen. Before calling Chestertown, Maryland his home he lived in many different parts of that state. In Centreville he owned a farm and operated a mill. It wasn’t until 1870 that he moved again laying down roots in Chestertown.
There, Reiche began a lucrative career in the furniture and cabinet making business owning the largest one in Chestertown. He also found success in the undertaking business. It’s easy to see how these two professions could lend themselves to the talking board, and they continue to fuel speculation.
Reiche was an Odd Fellow for 44 years, a member of the Amicable Lodge of Chestertown, a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, as well as a dedicated Democrat. He married Martha E. Nagle on February 21st 1856 in Centreville and had at least ten children. Listed from oldest to youngest; Charles J., Martha E., Susan Rebecca, Ernest C. Jr., Thomas R., William Mack, Matilda Reiche Fitzpatrick, Carolina L., Louis G., and Tillie Reiche Anderson.
Ernest Christian Reiche died at the age of 68 of cardiac asthma on January 6th in 1899 while visiting his brother, Dr. P. H. Reiche, in Baltimore, Maryland. He had been suffering from heart disease for many years and after only arriving at his brother’s house, died within five minutes. He is buried in Chester Cemetery in Chestertown, Maryland with his wife and family. The Reiche plot contains a large Reiche monument and is placed in a prominent part of the cemetery indicating the Reiche family did well for itself. The monument lists each of the names of the eight Reiche family members buried there. E. C. Reiche purchased this sixteen by sixteen plot on October 29th 1872.
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