New Appalachian Moments Blog Post by Scott Ballard
Arguably the most famous Siamese twins, Chang and Eng, were born in 1811, in what it today Thailand. The brothers were joined at the sternum, an area of the chest, by a small piece of cartilage.
Eighteen years later, Robert Hunter, a Scottish merchant who lived in Bangkok, saw the twins swimming and realized their money-making potential as a side show. He paid their parents to permit him to exhibit their sons as a curiosity on a world tour. They were rocks stars of the time, performing for Kings and Queens all over!
When they were finally able to get free of the contract with Hunter, Chang and Eng went into business for themselves. In 1839, while visiting Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the brothers liked the area so much they purchased a 110-acre farm in Traphill.
Determined to live as normal a life as they could, Chang and Eng settled on their farm and actually bought slaves to do the work they could not do themselves. Using their adopted American surname “Bunker”, they married local women in 1843. Chang wed Adelaide Yates, while Eng married her sister, Sarah Anne. It was a marriage that was, at least initially, not popular with their parents or the community!
The couples shared a bed built for four in their Mount Airy home. Chang and Adelaide would become the parents of eleven children. Eng and Sarah had ten. I’ll let you imagine how that played out for a moment.
During the American Civil War, Chang’s son Christopher and Eng’s son Stephen both served in the Confederate Army. The twins lost most of their money with the defeat of the South. They had to return to doing public exhibitions, but this time they didn’t have as much success.
In 1870, Chang suffered a stroke and his health declined over the next four years. He also began drinking heavily, but his drinking did not affect Eng physically as they did not share a circulatory system, but did cause many arguments between them.
In January of 1874, Chang died while the his brother was asleep. Eng awoke to find his brother dead and cried, “Then I am going (too)”. A doctor was summoned to perform an emergency separation, but he was too late. Eng died approximately three hours later, but the exact cause is still disputed.
When they died, the family had offers from all over the world to buy the bodies. At first against it, one of the wives caved and sent the bodies to Philadelphia for an autopsy. The bodies were eventually sent back, but their livers are still on display at the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia.
Nontraditional in life, they were nontraditional in death as they were buried three times! Buried first in basement of the house, and then in front yard so that the family could guard against grave robbers and curiosity seekers. The third time was the charm as they found a final resting spot in a cemetery in Mt. Airy.
And it might make you do a double take, but Chang and Eng’s descendants now number more than 1,500 spread all across the country. Many of them continue to reside in the vicinity of Mt. Airy, and continue to hold joint reunions.
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