George Stimpson

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Who were the orginal Siamese twins?

This term was first applied to Chang and Eng, joined twins born in 1811 at Meklong, Siam. Their father was Chinese and their mother half-Chinese and half-Siamese, and therefore the original Siamese twins, although born in Siam, were three-fourths Chinese and onefourth Siamese. Chang and Eng were joined at the waist by a thick band of fleshy ligament that became about four inches long and nine inches in circumference. The common navel was on the lower border of the cartilaginous structure, and a post-mortem showed that the blood vessels of the two livers communicated freely across the bridge, indicating that a surgical severance of the ligament might have been fatal to both. Chang and Eng were engaged successfully in the poultry business in 1824 when Robert Hunter, British merchant, saw them stripped to the waist and realized their value for educational and exhibition purposes. Hunter made a bargain with the mother (the father having died in 1819), and in 1829 an American sea captain named Coffin took the Siamese twins from Bangkok to Boston, where they arrived in April, 1829, when they were eighteen years old. Chang and Eng toured the United States and parts of Europe and made considerable money for their manager and themselves. In 1840, after saving $60,000, they settled down as farmers, first in Wilkes County and later in Surry County, North Carolina. They were naturalized as American citizens by act of the legislature and took the surname Bunker. Three years later Chang and Eng Bunker married sisters, Sarah Ann and Adelaide Yeats, of Wilkes County. They had a total of twenty-two children—Eng, seven boys and five daughters; Chang, seven daughters and three sons—all of them normal except that one of Chang's sons and one of his daughters were deaf mutes. But their domestic life was not very happy. The wives quarreled and the Siamese twins had to set up separate homes, which they visited alternately a few days at a time. They were hit hard financially by the Civil War, which deprived them of their slaves and much of their other wealth, with the result that they had to return to show business and their tours. Chang, the one on the left, was the more intelligent of the two and also the more irritable. He drank heavily and when under [page 8] the influence of liquor had the habit of breaking furniture and throwing the pieces into the fire. Eng was a teetotaler. It is said that because of a disagreement they seldom spoke to each other, at one time for a period of two years. While the twins were returning from England in 1870 Chang had a stroke of paralysis. Neither Chang's drinking nor his paralytic stroke seemed to affect Eng. Nearly four years later, when they were almost sixty-three, Chang died in his sleep, and two or three hours later Eng also died, either from fright or because of his physical connection with his dead brother. From this famous pair any joined twins are now known as Siamese twins. The earliest joined twins of which there is authentic record were the "Maids of Biddendon," England, who were born about 1100 A.D. Siamese twins seldom survive. They may be of the fraternal but generally are of the identical type. The degree of physical connection may range from a simple union of the umbilical vessels to a considerable fusion of the two bodies. Whether they can be successfully separated by a surgical operation depends on the circumstances in each case. Siamese twins present all sorts of complicated legal problems. When they should be regarded as one person and when as two persons has never been determined clearly. Some transportation companies require Siamese twins to have two tickets and others require them to have only one. In 1939 Mary and Margaret Gibbs, twenty-seven-year old Siamese twins of Holyoke, Massachusetts, were paid a single salary of $150 a week for show purposes and their manager is reported to have insisted that because of the joint salary they should be permitted to join a union as one person. The advisory board of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AFL) ruled that since the girls had two different names they would have to join as two members and pay separate initiation fees and yearly dues.