My mom always said the secret to success was getting a good night sleep and making sure you washed your face every morning. I guess Charles Kennard, the man who first manufactured the board that later became Ouija®, felt the same way! The pillowcase and hand towel you see here were gifts from Charles Kennard’s great granddaughter, Lavaille. She was one of the Ouija descendants we had as guests of honor at OUIJACON this past April. She wanted to bring something special as a thank you for researching her great grandfather and their connection to the Ouija board. Lavaille had nothing to thank me for, she’s the one who’s been so giving of her time and family history and as usual I’m the one in her debt.
Well, in typical Lavaille fashion she outdid herself. Among the gifts she brought were these textiles. Now, I’ve been incredibly lucky with many of the families involved with Ouija donating many items to me over the years and I am eternally grateful. I’ve been given a Ouija stencil, Ouija jewelry, photographs, documents, you name it, but I’ve never been given textiles before and somehow it just feels different. I mean Charles Kennard’s head actually laid on that pillowcase and he dried off his face in the morning after washing up. Ok, obviously I’m obsessed with this stuff and a major Ouija nerd but come one, that’s pretty darn cool, right?
Both the pillowcase and hand towel were originally wedding gifts for Charles Kennard and his soon to be bride Caroline Barney Wickes in 1884. If you look closely you’ll see Caroline’s married monogram on the towel CBK and CKB on the pillow case. Though they lived in Chestertown, Maryland on the Eastern Shore, they wed in Baltimore on December 4, 1884. After their honeymoon in New York they returned to Chestertown and built a house in 1886 where Charles Kennard claimed to come up with the idea that would become the Ouija board four years later in 1890. The fact that he used these things during that time is amazing, again I know, Nerdville.
One thing I learned a long time ago is that when families give you these amazing artifacts you become their caretakers. That means you quickly need to learn how to preserve them. I mean these items are already 131 years old, and I definitely don’t want to be responsible for damaging them. But here’s the deal, I don’t know anything about cleaning and preserving fabric. I can barely keep my whites from turning crazy colors when I wash them. Lucky for me I have friends in low places who are always more than happy to help. So, I asked my friend and fellow collector Calvin Von Crush if he had any leads on textile preservation. Calvin had worked on a super successful exhibit on Spiritualism with the Mark Twain House so they hooked him up and he in turn hooked me up. This contact gave me a list of places and one in particular stood out. Museum Textile Services in Andover Massachusetts. They are super close to me in Boston AND come highly recommended. They know their stuff.
With my trusty friend’s contact in hand, I gave them a call and sent them an email. I was immediately contacted back by founder Camille Breeze. She was fascinated by the project and with the provenance of the items. It’s one thing to say something is from someone famous and it’s another to be able to back up that claim. With Ouija’s 125th anniversary upon and us all the attention it’s received, they were excited to take on the project. I went down and met with Camille pre-back surgery in early May of this year and entrusted these Kennard relics to her. Due to the popularity of their services and enormous back log, the Kennard pillowcase and towel cleaning were scheduled to begin in September. Well, last night the stars aligned and they asked if they could begin as early as this or next week? Hells yeah I said, and so begins a new adventure. I might even learn how to keep my own whites white!?
Throughout the process they’ll photograph and blog about the restoration and as soon as they do I’ll share with you how things are going. If nothing else it will be interesting!
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this. Lavaille told me this as she gave me these family heirlooms back in April and it continues to haunt me today. She reminded me that in my presentation I told everyone that my interest in Ouija history began in 1992. Lavaille’s mother had passed away in 1989 and it took until 1992 until she was ready to go through all of her mother’s boxes in her basement. That year she found this stuff and remembered having the singular thought, “I am the last person in the world to have any interest in these things.” Best we can tell Lavaille is the last direct relative of Charles Kennard. She never married or had any children so she believed when she passed away these things would be lost forever. As she handed me pieces of her family’s legacy she ended the conversation saying, “Little did I know that the same year that thought crossed my mind, a young man from Boston was just beginning to take interest.” Synchronicity really is an amazing thing and though I’m as skeptical as the next person, I truly believe that the dead live on in the memories and thoughts of the living. Thanks to Lavaille, her generosity, and with the help of a pillowcase and towel, her great-grandfather’s story will be told for generations to come and he’ll live on in the pages of history. How cool is that?