Barnum, Bunker twins, Chang and Eng, conjoined, oddities, Siamese, Thailand, twins
In 1824, merchant Robert Hunter came across an unusual set of twin boys while in Thailand, then known as Siam. We’ve all heard of Anna and the King of Siam, but that’s another story. From that book, musical, and film, we learned a bit about the culture. The twins, conjoined at the chest, were condemned to die, but kept at the king’s court. The death decree was lifted when they turned sixteen.
So began the tale of Chang and Eng, who visited countries all over the world, made masses of money, and from whom we got the label of Siamese twins. It helped that they were attractive boys and let little stand in their way
The twins left Thailand when Robert Hunter petitioned the government to allow him to take the boys on tour, touting them as oddities. The twins traveled the world, became famous, made a fortune. A parting of the ways came when an issue with money arose, and the young men went their own way. Later, they joined up with P.T. Barnum.
Chang and Eng retired young and invested their money in North Carolina farmland. They found wives—sisters Adelaide and Sarah Yates—and married in a double ceremony in 1843. It’s been written that the marriage issue evoked a great deal of controversy due to conubial relations, but as usual, that never stopped the brothers. The quartet lived together for a few years until the sisters had a falling out. After that, the brothers stayed in three-day cycles at one of the two houses. They became American citizens, took the name Bunker, and proceeded to beget twenty-one children. Two of their grandsons fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
The Bunkers lost a great deal due to the war and became embittered. Chang took to drinking and Eng to gambling. By 1870, they needed money and agreed to another tour with Barnum. Onboard ship, Chang had a stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed on the right side. Eng had to physically support his brother. There had been discussion about surgery to separate in the past. The brothers were still not in favor. Their wives supported their decision. In 1874, Chang developed bronchitis. Eng woke to find his brother dead. The physician urged Eng to be separated from his brother. He refused. A few hours later, Eng died. So great was the fascination and furor over the twins for most of their lives that a death cast was made.
I’ve listed a few websites. Widely illustrated and photographed, their resilience and determination glares out of every picture. It’s said that we all have our crosses to bear. These two men took their disability to its most practical lengths and made lives for themselves. They were known to argue with each other but never wanted to be separated, even at the end. They left behind many descendants, a respected legacy, and me with no reason to gripe about my difficulties. The Bunkers were never oddities. They were pioneers.