Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Freak of the Week #7 - Chang and Eng

But do you recall...the most famous conjoined twins of all?

Oh, what a storied life these symbiotic siblings led!

Chang and Eng Bunker, born May 11 1811 near Bangkok in mystical Siam, were bound together by a thick, fibrous band connecting them at their stomachs. Doctors suggested they be separated, but their parents chose to keep them entwined, and taught them how to work together. Exercising every day to stretch the fleshy tube, the brothers eventually stretched it to three inches in length, learning to stand side-by-side, dress, walk and run, and even SWIM!

Their father passed in 1819, leaving the two eight-year-olds to fend for themselves. They made and sold coconut oil, sold duck eggs to ships in the harbor, rowing to each ship in their synchronous way. As they grew older their fame spread throughout Siam and they were known as "The Chinese Twins," visited by Siam's King (and his !700! wives), until in 1829 they were "discovered" by captain Robert Hunter and displayed on a worldwide tour. After their contract was up they embarked on the oddities business under their own counsel.

By 1838 the men were exhausted form touring, and decided to retire with their accumulated wealth. They adopted American citizenship and took the surname Bunker, after a friend from Boston. Chang and Eng purchased a plantation in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, including slaves (33 of them), and settled down. They were engaged to Adelaide and Sarah Ann (or Sally) Yates, and were scheduled to marry the girls, but the local yokels disapproved of the engagement and even threatened the brothers. Fearful of double homicide, the brothers arranged for a separation surgery, even if it meant it might kill them both - but Adelaide and Sally stepped in before the operation and married the twins in a quick double-wedding ceremony. One couple bought a farm next to the brothers' plantation and the brothers built separate houses and raised tobacco. They spent alternating nights with their wives in their own houses - together fathering 22 children (10 were Chang's, 12 were Eng's). Several of the children died in infancy or early childhood.

In 1860 the brothers decided to come out of retirement to raise money for the college tuition of their swelling clan. In October of that year, they began a six-week show at P.T. Barnum's American Museum.

Barnum didn't care much for the twins. Unlike his friendly relationships with other oddities, Barnum had no personal control over the brothers or their families.

"The truth is," Barnum wrote in a private note, "the wives of the twins (who are sisters) fight like cats and dogs and want their husband separated."

And Chang was drinking heavily, coming to dislike the straight-edged Eng. From a newspaper account at the time, the twins were found fighting in their sleeping room at the museum, Chang choking Eng.

After the tour was over, the brothers returned home just in time for the Civil War. Chang's son Christopher and Eng's son Stephen both fought for the Confederacy, which brought considerable derision from the North in the years after the war was over. In 1865, broke from the war, the brothers came out retirement once more to tour the lucrative Northern circuits.

In 1868 the paired with Barnum one last time, reportedly sent on a tour of Britain to find a surgeon who might finally separate them. That never happened.

In 1870 Chang suffered a stroke, and for the next four years had to be carried by his brother Eng.

On January 17, 1874, Chang died in his sleep. Eng awakened to find his brother dead, and called for the wives to help him. They sent for a surgeon to try and perform an emergency separation, but Eng died four hours later, before the doctor arrived.

Their fused liver is on display in the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where it is exhibited alongside a plaster death-cast of the twins.

I wonder - if one of the twins went to Hell, and the other went to Heaven, how exactly are they scheduling that in the afterlife?


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