Today, we might consider a kitchen table a peculiar piece of equipment to use to speak with spirits. For the spiritualist mediums of the 1850’s, it seemed quite natural. A table was an available and commonplace piece of household furniture and a natural gathering place for family members. It also provided an ideal contact surface for those performing a séance. It worked very simply: the sitters placed their hands palms down on the tabletop and asked questions of the spirits. The spirits responded by tilting the table and rapping a leg against the floor. One knock meant, “no,” two knocks meant, “doubtful,” and three knocks meant, “yes.” For complicated messages, spiritualists either called out the alphabet and let the spirits knock at the appropriate letter, or they employed an alphabet pasteboard. A member of the group held up the pasteboard with one hand, and with the fingers of the other, passed them slowly over the letters. The spirits knocked when the fingers touched the desired letter. Although somewhat time consuming, it was a simple and effective way to spell out messages from the “Dearly Departed.”
Some mediums believed that there might be better methods of interpreting messages than using tables and alphabet boards. Modeling their equipment after the new dial plate telegraphs of the period, the logic was plain: if you could contact the living using the telegraph, then why not the non-living? In 1853, a Thompsonville, Connecticut spiritualist, Isaac T. Pease, called his invention, suitably enough, the “Spiritual Telegraph Dial.” Just a dial with letters arranged around the circumference and a message needle to point to them were necessary. There was no need for messy wires or electricity.