CLOSE
Original image

10 Stories of Conjoined Twins

Original image

Conjoined twins are not as rare as they once were, for several reasons: if birth anomalies occur in a percentage of the population, there will be more of them in a larger population, and with advanced medical procedures, they are more likely to survive birth. However, they are not the celebrated “freaks” they once were. More such twins are able to be separated, while others choose to live private lives. And conjoined twins who are open to publicity contribute to a public that is more at ease with “human oddities” due to familiarity. But only a few decades ago, the fate of conjoined twins was usually to be exhibited to the public. It was the easiest way to earn a good living, and life in a “freak show” often came with the comfort of living with others who knew what it was like to be different. Here are the stories of a few sets of conjoined twins who gained fame in the past.

1. Byzantium Twins

A pair of unnamed twins in the 10th century managed to survive infancy and were documented by several authors of the time. Records of conjoined twins from so far back are quite rare, as birth anomalies in the ancient world were often deemed to be a bad omen and the children allowed to die. The boys were born in Armenia, and came to Constantinople as adults. They were known at the royal court, but also wandered the countryside exhibiting themselves. Sometime during the reign of Constantine VII in the mid-900s, they returned to Constantinople. One twin died, and emergency surgery was attempted to separate them -the first known separation attempt. The surviving twin lived only three more days.

2. The Hungarian Sisters

Helen and Judith were born in Hungary in 1701, supposedly three hours apart. Whether or not this is true, it brings up an image of a terrifying experience for a frightened and exhausted mother. The girls’ pelvises were fused, back to back. From age two through nine, the girls were exhibited all over Europe, and examined by doctors from each country. They learned many languages, and sang together for audiences. Judith, the twin whose birth was delayed, was the weaker of the two. She suffered a stroke at age six, which left her paralyzed on the left side. Afterward, she leaned heavily on the more robust Helen. When the girls were nine, they entered a convent, where they lived in privacy until their death on the same day at age 22. Alexander Pope wrote a poem about the Hungarian Sisters that gave them immortality.

"Two sisters wonderful to behold, who have thus grown as one,
That naught their bodies can divide, no power beneath the sun.
The town of Szoenii gave them birth, hard by far-famed Komorn,
Which noble fort may all the arts of Turkish sultans scorn.
Lucina, woman's gentle friend, did Helen first receive;
And Judith, when three hours had passed, her mother's womb did leave.
One urine passage serves for both; one anus, so they tell;
The other parts their numbers keep, and serve their owners well.
Their parents poor did send them forth, the world to travel through,
That this great wonder of the age should not be hid from view.
The inner parts concealed do lie hid from our eyes, alas!
But all the body here you view erect in solid brass."

3. Chang and Eng Bunker

Chang and Eng Bunker were born in Thailand (called Siam at the time) in 1811. Their birth was so shocking that the King of Siam ordered them killed -but their mother refused to hand the boys over, so the order was never carried out. They achieved such fame that the term “Siamese twins” would come to be used to describe the condition of conjoined twins, when in Chang and Eng’s case, it was used simply to denote their homeland. British merchant Robert Hunter encountered the twins as teenagers and arranged to take them to England. They toured England and the U.S. for years, exhibiting their bodies and abilities. When they turned 21, Chang and Eng took charge of their own affairs and began to make serious money. In 1839, they quit show business and bought a farm in North Carolina. They married two sisters (over their parents’ objections) and raised 21 children between them. Chang and Eng pursued the possibility of separation several times, but doctors at that time could not predict what would happen. So they remained conjoined until 1874, when they died three hours apart.

4. Millie and Christine McKoy

Millie and Christine McKoy were born in North Carolina in 1851, to a slave family owned by Jabez McKay. He sold the twins and their mother to showman John Pervis when they were eight months old. Pervis sold them to Joseph Pearson Smith and his partner named Brower. The twins were kidnapped by another exhibitor and only found three years later, in England, and returned to the States. As the girls grew, they learned to sing in harmony at their shows. When their exhibitor Smith died in 1862, the twins were inherited by his son Joseph, Jr. who revamped the twins’ publicity. Instead of being exhibited as conjoined twins, they were advertised as one girl with two heads (and four arms and four legs). Billed as “The Two-headed Nightingale,” Millie and Christine were renamed Millie-Christine, as if they were one person. They sang, danced, and played musical instruments to great acclaim, and earned plenty of money on their own after slavery was abolished. They retired from show business at age 58, and settled in Columbus, North Carolina, becoming once again Millie and Christine. They lived to age 61, when they died of tuberculosis in 1912, seventeen hours apart.

5. Giovanni and Giacomo Tocci

Giacomo and Giovanni Battista Tocci were born in Locana, Italy, sometime between 1875 and 1877. Their father was so shocked by the twins' appearance that he was sent to a mental asylum for a month. The boys appeared to be one boy from the waist down, but were two full boys from the waist up. And, as doctors all over Europe examined them, their anatomy was pretty much that way. Each twin could feel and control only one leg. They never learned to walk upright, but they could crawl. The twins got along with each other most of the time, but would settle their differences by punching each other. After a childhood of exhibition in Europe, the Tocci twins came to America in 1891 and stayed for five years. In 1897, after barely reaching adulthood, Giacomo and Giovanni retired to a villa in Venice, becoming recluses from the public for the rest of their lives. Little is known of them afterward. There were rumors that they had married two women, but it was never confirmed. They died sometime after 1912, but it is not known exactly when.

6. Rosa and Josepha Blažek

Rosa and Josepha Blažek were born in Skrejšov, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), in 1878. The two girls were fused at the pelvis, with enough connected bone to make separation impossible. The Blažeks toured for years, but eventually the crowds grew smaller and profits were down. Then in 1909 the papers were full of the news that Rosa was pregnant. In 1910 she gave birth to a boy she named Franz. Depending on the source, the story is that father of the child was identified but was refused a marriage license because that would be bigamy, or that they were married before he died in the war, or Rosa never identified the father, or the child was never hers, but was an orphan used to bolster the twins' career. Little Franz accompanied Rosa and Josepha on their exhibit tours. When the twins fell ill in 1922, a brother the twins had never mentioned came forward to take care of their end-of-life needs—mainly to make sure they were not separated and that he inherited their fortune. The twins died, unseparated, within a few minutes of each other. Their fortune turned out to be a mere $400.

7. The Orissa Sisters

The adorable Radica and Doodica Neik were born in Orissa, India, in 1888. The local villagers saw the babies as a bad omen, and their father wanted to separate them himself. instead, they were taken in by a monastery. Radica and Doodica were joined by a band of cartilage between their chests, much as Chang and Eng Bunker. In 1888, the girls were purchased by a showman named Captain Colman, who exhibited them in Europe as The Hindoo twins. They achieved lasting notoriety when Doodica developed tuberculosis in 1902, and Dr. Eugene-Louis Doyen of Paris stepped in to separate the twins, with the aim of saving Radica from the disease.

The teenage twins were successfully separated, but Doodica died the next day. An autopsy determined that she had died of advanced tuberculosis, and not the separation surgery. Radica had barely missed being attached to a dead sister. But Radica also had tuberculosis, and died a year later in a sanitarium in Paris. Dr. Doyen had filmed the surgery, and the film was sent on exhibit in place of the twins.

8. Violet and Daisy Hilton

Violet and Daisy Hilton were British conjoined twins born in 1908. They were joined at the pelvis but shared no major organs. Mary Hilton bought the twins from their barmaid mother, who worked for Hilton. They went on their first exhibition tour at age three. The girls sang, danced, and played musical instruments throughout Europe and the U.S. When Mary Hilton died, her daughter and son-in-law took charge of the twins. They sued their managers in 1931 for their freedom and $100,000. Violet and Daisy then staged their own vaudeville act, which they continued into old age. They starred in two movies: Freaks in 1932, and their own highly-fictionalized biopic Chained For Life in 1951. In 1961, their tour manager abandoned them in North Carolina, so they got a job at a local grocery store. There they stayed until they were found dead of flu in 1969. According to a forensic investigation, Violet had survived two to four days after Daisy died, but had no means to call for help.

9. Simplicio and Lucio Godina

Simplicio and Lucio Godina were born in Samar, the Philippines, in 1908. The two boys were connected by skin and cartilage at the pelvis, back-to-back, but were flexible enough to twist in relation to each other. While on exhibit in the U.S., the boys were adopted at age 11 by a wealthy Filipino, Teodor Yangeo. Yangeo took them to Manila and raised the boys in luxury, making sure they were well-educated. In 1928, Simplicio and Lucio married identical twins Natividad and Victorina Matos, after a court battle to prove that Simplicio and Lucio were, indeed, two people. The question arose when a clerk refused to grant them marriage licenses. The four newlyweds went on the road again, with Simplicio and Lucio playing musical instruments and dancing with their wives. The Godinas were still young in 1936 when Lucio fell ill with pneumonia. An emergency separation was performed immediately after Lucio died, but Simplicio developed spinal meningitis and died 12 days later.

10. Margaret and Mary Gibb

Margaret and Mary Gibb were born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, in 1912. In contrast to the stories of other conjoined twins, their parents did not want them exhibited or exploited. Nor did they want the twins separated, although several doctors approached the family about it, no doubt inspired by Dr. Doyen’s success. Margaret and Mary were educated at home privately. But at age 14, they took control of their own lives and went to New York hoping to break into vaudeville. Margaret and Mary performed on the vaudeville stage and with traveling circuses for the next couple of decades. There were two instances in which Margaret became engaged to be married, and one highly-publicized planned separation. But the twins were never separated, and neither married, so the stories could have been publicity stunts. The twins returned to Holyoke in 1942 and opened a store, and retired completely in 1949. They lived a quiet life until 1966 when Margaret was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Even then, the Gibb twins refused to be separated, and they both died within minutes of each other in 1967.

One has to wonder what it is about North Carolina that causes the state to figure in so many of these stories. This is not an exhaustive list of historical conjoined twins. Several pairs of twins who were exhibited but did not survive childhood were deliberately omitted, as were modern-day twins. See also:

The True Stories Behind 11 Famous Sideshow Performers

Coney Island Freaks of Yesterday and Today

Strange Geographies: Freaks in Mayberry

Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
Miss Cellania
10 Famous Birthdays in May
Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some of our favorite historical figures were born in May. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a few of the notable people we'll be celebrating.

1. SIGMUND FREUD: MAY 6, 1856

Getty Images
Getty Images

Sigmund Freud is known as the Father of Psychoanalysis. The Vienna psychiatrist developed a theory of the unconscious mind, where the id, ego, and superego struggle to balance each other out in the human psyche. Freud attributed his patients' neuroses to childhood trauma, often cloaked in a sexual conflict. His work was at first deemed perverted, but his ideas started to spread after a series of lectures in the U.S. in 1909. After Freud's death in 1939, Freudian theory was hailed as genius in mainstream culture. But beginning in the 1960s, Freud's theories started to fall out of favor in academia and are largely discredited today. However, his attempts to map the psyche gave us the language we still use to discuss personality and mental health.

2. FRED ASTAIRE: MAY 10, 1899

Getty Images
Getty Images

Fred Astaire began dancing when he was just four years old. Soon he and his sister Adele were in a performing arts school and started dancing professionally. First came vaudeville, then Broadway, and when Adele married, Fred headed to Hollywood. Producers were at first reluctant to cast Astaire as a leading man because of his looks, but his dancing soon won them over. Astaire appeared in dozens of films between 1933 and 1981, 10 of them with with dance partner Ginger Rogers. Although his later films did not revolve around dance numbers, Astaire was seen dancing in an episode of Battlestar Galactica as late as 1979, when he was 80 years old.

3. MARTHA GRAHAM: MAY 11, 1894

Getty Images
Getty Images

Martha Graham wanted to dance from an early age, but her parents disapproved, so she didn't study dance until college. Her wildly emotional dancing led her to performances in New York, and in 1926 she established the Martha Graham Dance Company. Through the company, Graham promoted modern dance as a spiritual and emotional outlet. Over time, she came to be seen as a genius of the genre. Graham danced until she was in her '70s, and continued to choreograph dances until her death at age 91.

4. KATHARINE HEPBURN: MAY 12, 1907

Getty Images
Getty Images

Katharine Hepburn caught the acting bug in college and headed to the stages of New York upon graduation. She was spotted in a Broadway production and was offered the lead in RKO's 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. That kicked off a movie career of more than 60 years, in which she was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four. Hepburn was a certified box office draw, but off screen she refused to behave like a Hollywood star. She spoke her mind, wore pants, and even appeared in public without makeup occasionally. Hepburn was also known for her devotion to the love of her life, actor Spencer Tracy, who was separated from his wife but refused to divorce her. The last of nine films they made together was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967, just before Tracy died. Hepburn continued making movies through 1994, when she was 87 years old.

5. PIERRE CURIE: MAY 15, 1859

Getty Images
Getty Images

French physicist Pierre Curie is often overlooked in favor of Marie Curie, his brilliant student and later wife. Together they discovered radium and polonium, and did extensive research into radioactivity. Pierre, Marie, and Henri Becquerel jointly won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research. Curie might have gone onto many further discoveries, but he was killed in 1906 when a horse-drawn cart ran over him in Paris. If he had lived longer, Curie might have also succumbed to illness caused by radiation, as did his wife, daughter, and son-in-law—all Nobel Prize winners.

6. MARY CASSATT: MAY 22, 1844

Mary Cassatt via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Renowned American painter Mary Cassatt wanted to become an artist, but her parents objected and her Philadelphia art school didn't take women students seriously. So she went to Paris and studied privately under teachers from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, as the school did not admit women. Gradually, Cassatt's works sold and her reputation grew. She drew the attention of Impressionist Edgar Degas, and worked with him for years. By 1886, she left the Impressionist movement behind, and afterward refused to be defined by any art genre. Cassatt's body of work often featured women and children in their everyday lives. Her most memorable painting, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, broke with tradition by portraying a child in a naturalistic, casual pose instead of a formal portrait.

7. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: MAY 22, 1859

Getty Images
Getty Images

Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered for his many short stories and novels featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. But Conan Doyle worked full time as a medical doctor until an illness convinced him he had to choose between writing and medicine. Years later, Conan Doyle volunteered with the British army to fight in the Second Boer War, but because of his age (40), he was only allowed to serve as a medical doctor. Upon his return from South Africa, he entered politics in Scotland, but he lost his only race. In 1907, Conan Doyle became involved in a real criminal case in which he helped George Edalji, a solicitor of Indian heritage, beat an animal cruelty conviction by employing the observational technique that Sherlock Holmes used. The fallout from that case led to the establishment of the appeals system in Britain. Conan Doyle also wrote a science fiction novel The Lost World, published in 1912. It was so successful that he wrote four sequels.

8. MARGARET FULLER: MAY 23, 1810

Getty Images
Getty Images

Born in Massachusetts in 1810, Margaret Fuller was a precocious child who learned several languages but was not welcome at college because of her sex. She became friends with both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who admired her philosophical thinking. Fuller became a literary critic for the New-York Tribune and a well-known intellectual.

In 1845, Fuller made history with Woman in the Nineteenth Century, often considered the first major feminist work published in the United States. This groundbreaking book began as an essay in Emerson's transcendentalist journal The Dial called "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," in which Fuller argued that men and women must see each other as equals before they can transcend to divine love. Fuller reasoned that ignoring our commonality was the base of much of America's sins, from the slaughter of Native Americans to the slavery of African Americans.

Fuller went on to become a foreign correspondent and the first American female war correspondent, covering the Italian revolution. She also fell in love with an Italian man and had a child with him. On their return trip to the U.S. in 1850 aboard a merchant ship, a hurricane struck the ship near Fire Island, killing all three. Only Fuller's 20-month-old son was found.

9. SALLY RIDE: MAY 26, 1951

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space, aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player when she was a teenager. Billie Jean King urged her to turn pro, but Ride went to Stanford University instead. She earned both a bachelor of arts in English and a bachelor of science in physics in 1973, and a PhD in physics in 1978. Ride then immediately applied for NASA's astronaut program. She flew two shuttle missions, in 1983 and '84, and was scheduled for a third, but that mission was canceled after the Challenger explosion in 1986. After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride devoted her life to encouraging students to study science—especially girls. She founded the organization Sally Ride Science for just that purpose, and wrote five children's books encouraging interest in science. Ride died of cancer at age 61 in 2012.

10. "WILD BILL" HICKOK: MAY 27, 1837

Getty Images
Getty Images

James Butler Hickok was a farmer, soldier, stagecoach driver, spy, lawman, scout, sharpshooter, gambler, and Wild West showman. Many of those occupations came after "Wild Bill" Hickok gained publicity for killing three men in an 1861 shootout. The newspapers followed his exploits from that time on, often embellishing the details until Hickok was more of a legend than the adventurer he was. His various occupations took him to different parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Hickok was playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota, when Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head and killed him in 1876. The hand Hickok was holding at the time—a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights—became known as the "dead man's hand."

Original image
Idaho Potato Museum via Facebook
arrow
Miss Cellania
9 Bizarre Food Museums
Original image
Idaho Potato Museum via Facebook

What’s your favorite food? Chances are, there’s a museum dedicated to it somewhere. You might want to include one or more of these museums in your next vacation road trip.  

1. JELL-O GALLERY // LEROY, NEW YORK

Pearle Wait of LeRoy, New York, invented a fruit-flavored gelatin dessert in 1897 that he wife named Jell-O. Appropriately, the town is home to the Jell-O Gallery, a museum dedicated to the gelatin that took America by storm. Visitors will learn the history of Jell-O, see memorabilia and advertising from Jell-O history, and learn about cooking in the past century. The museums operated by the non-profit LeRoy Historical Society, and is not supported by Kraft/General Foods, which owns Jell-O. The museum is open seven days a week through December, and weekdays January through March.    

2. THE SPAM MUSEUM // AUSTIN, MINNESOTA

The Hormel company has its headquarters in Austin, Minnesota, a few miles south of Minneapolis. That’s also the home of the Spam Museum. Hormel opened a small company museum in the local mall in 1991, but quickly found that all their visitors cared about was Spam, so now that classic canned meat has its own building downtown. Exhibits include the history of Spam, cooking demonstrations, Spam memorabilia, and a soundtrack from Monty Python.

3. INTERNATIONAL BANANA MUSEUM // NORTH SHORE, CALIFORNIA

In 2005, the International Banana Club Museum was named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most items devoted to any one fruit in the world.” The IBC Museum was established by Ken Bannister and the club in 1975, and amassed its collection of 17,000 banana items from club members who gained “banana merits.” The collection was sold in 2010 and is now the International Banana Museum. It is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.   

4. WYANDOT POPCORN MUSEUM // MARION, OHIO

Wyandot Popcorn Museum via Facebook

Marion, Ohio, is the self-proclaimed Popcorn Capital of the World, due to the existence of the Wyandot Popcorn Company, which was based in the area since the 1930s. The company now focuses on chips, but its legacy is enshrined in the Wyandot Popcorn Museum, which boasts an extensive collection of restored antique popcorn poppers. These commercial poppers range from movie theater models to snack wagons to factory poppers, some over 100 years old. The museum shares space with the Wyandot Historical Society in the town’s historic former post office building. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. through October, and weekends only the rest of the year.  

5. NATIONAL DAIRY SHRINE MUSEUM // FORT ATKINSON, WISCONSIN

The National Dairy Shrine is a professional group formed in 1949 promote the milk industry. The National Dairy Shrine Museum is a place to learn about all facets of the dairy industry, from the history of midwest dairy farmers to the production of butter, ice cream, cheese, and other products. The Shrine also has educational programs, a Hall of Fame honoring leaders in the industry, scholarships and internships, and more. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

6. NATIONAL MUSTARD MUSEUM // MIDDLETON, WISCONSIN

Barry Levenson was once Wisconsin’s Assistant Attorney General, but his real passion is mustard. He’s been collecting different mustards since 1986, and eventually left his law career completely to devote his time to the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum he founded in 1992. In 2000, the growing museum moved to its permanent location in Middleton and became the National Mustard Museum. There you can see 5,624 different mustards and a collection of mustard memorabilia. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Admission is free, as the museum is supported by donations and mustard sales.   

7. INTERNATIONAL VINEGAR MUSEUM // ROSLYN, SOUTH DAKOTA

International Vinegar Museum via Facebook

The world’s only vinegar museum was founded by Lawrence "Vinegarman" Diggs to showcase the many  varieties of vinegar and its many uses. The International Vinegar Museum has 350 different varieties of vinegar, a test kitchen, and vinegar tastings for visitors. The museum is open during the summer only. If you plan to visit Roslyn, the best time would be in June during the International Vinegar Festival.  

8. THE IDAHO POTATO MUSEUM // BLACKFOOT, IDAHO

Idaho Potato Museum via Facebook

Idaho produces more potatoes than any other state, so it only makes sense that they would have a museum dedicated to the state’s crop. The Idaho Potato Museum is housed in the historic Oregon Short Line Railroad Depot in Blackfoot. You’ll learn about potato history, growing potatoes, and the importance of potatoes to Idaho’s economy. The newest addition to the museum is the Potato Station Cafe, which specialized in French fries, of course. The Idaho Potato Museum is open six days a week from April through September, and weekdays from October through March.  

9. HARLAND SANDERS CAFÉ AND MUSEUM // CORBIN, KENTUCKY

Harland Sanders fed travelers at his gas station on Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression, and then opened a restaurant, where he developed his method of pressure-frying chicken, which he breaded with 11 herbs and spices. Kentucky Fried Chicken grew out of that restaurant, which for a time had a motel attached. Sanders set up a sample hotel room inside the restaurant so that travelers could see what the rooms looked like before making the decision to stay. The motel is gone, but that restaurant was restored as the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, with many of the original artifacts, including the sample motel room. There is a modern KFC outlet attached. Some of the museum’s artifacts are displayed at the fast food unit, and you can sit down and eat your chicken in the museum.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios