A couple of weeks ago I released an article about some incredible humans that, despite their disabilities have managed to achieve some amazing things. And, that’s the basis for my latest book, The New Savants – humans who were not conventionally normal. This week I’m taking a look at two pairs of conjoined twins.
Modern medicinal advances have made it possible for us to separate conjoined twins. In previous centuries, however, this could not be achieved and many of them ended up as members of the circus, mainly because they were unable to fit in anywhere else.
1. The Two-Faced Nightingale
Born into slavery on July 11, 1851, Millie and Christine were joined at the spine and, as they would be of little use to a slave master, they were sold (along with their mother) at the age of 8 months to a showman, John Pervis, for $1000. After exhibiting the girls for a few years, Pervis passed them on to a circus duo, Joseph Smith and Brower, for continued display. Shortly after, the girls were kidnapped and used as a medical marvel. Smith went to great lengths to recover their investment and Millie and Christine were eventually located in Birmingham, England, and released into the care of their mother. Unable to look after them on her own, she handed them back to Smith and Brower to continue their lives as circus freaks.
The outward appearance of the girls wasn’t enough to attract large crowds by itself, and Smith and his wife began to teach them skills. These included proper etiquette, various languages and musical abilities. The girls had magnificent voices, with Christine singing soprano and Millie a contralto, and with the discovery of their musical talents their fame began to rise.
When his father died Smith’s son, Joseph Jr, hit the jackpot by starting to advertise them as an individual, known as Millie-Christine, with two heads, four arms and four legs. This Two Faced Nightingale became a musical sensation, being able to play the guitar, piano and sing simultaneously. The girls even began performing for royalty, including Queen Victoria and The Prince of Wales.
In January 1863, they gained their freedom with the Emancipation Proclamation; but continued to perform until the age of 58, when they retired to Columbus, North Carolina. The sisters lived here until their death at the age of 61, with Millie passing first and Christine following 17 hours later.
2. The Siam Duo
Chang and Eng are considered the reason that conjoined twins are also referred to as Siamese twins. Born in Siam (modern day Thailand) on May 11, 1811, the brothers are considered the most famous circus twins ever. They were attached by a single stretch of skin on their chest and, even though they faced each other, their personalities were strikingly different. Eng was considered the dominant twin, while Chang played a calmer, more subservient role.
In 1829, Captain Abel Coffin ‘discovered’ the twins and began touring them in England and then America, where they were happily received. They continued performing in the United States and eventually bought a plantation, where they set up homes at opposite ends. The brothers married two sisters and fathered 22 children between them, and they would spend three days in each household at a time. After Chang suffered a stroke, in 1871, the twins’ mobility was severely limited because he had controlled their legs. On January 17th 1874 Chang died at his home, with Eng following only four hours later.