Conjoined Twins Chang And Eng Bunker Appear At Barnum's American Museum
Chang and Eng Bunker, conjoined twins from Siam (now Thailand), came to the U.S. in 1829 and toured the nation and the world over the next four decades.
Born in 1811 of Chinese parents, the twins were successful entrepreneurs in Siam before Boston sea captain Abel Coffin contracted to manage them as a touring exhibit. After three years with Coffin, the brothers took over their own careers as a touring curiosity until they earned enough money to purchase a plantation and slaves in North Carolina. Although they had minimal dealings with Barnum, he displayed a wax figure of the twins in the American Museum in the 1840s, published a pamphlet on their lives in 1853, and publicly associated himself with the brothers. With large families to support, Chang and Eng returned to show business, agreeing to a six-week engagement at Barnum's American Museum in 1860. After suffering financial loses during the Civil War, the brothers again agreed to a European tour sponsored by Barnum in 1868. They died in January 1874.
The Bunker brothers were born on May 11, 1811 in Siam (now Thailand), in the province of Samutsongkram, to a fisherman and a mother (Nok or นาก [Nak] in Thai). They were joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage. Their livers were fused but independently complete. Although 19th century medicine did not have the means to do so, modern surgical techniques would have easily allowed them to be separated. In 1829, they were "discovered" in Siam by British merchant Robert Hunter and exhibited as a curiosity during a world tour. Upon termination of their contract with their discoverer, they successfully went into business for themselves. In 1839, while visiting Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the twins were attracted to the area and settled on a 110 acre farm in nearby Traphill, becoming naturalized United States citizens.
Determined to start living a normal life as much as possible, the brothers settled on a plantation, bought slaves, and adopted the name "Bunker". On April 13, 1843, they married two sisters: Chang to Adelaide Yates and Eng to Sarah Anne Yates. Their Traphill home is where they shared a bed built for four. Chang and his wife had 10 children; Eng and his wife had 11. In time, the wives squabbled and eventually two separate households were set up just west of Mount Airy, North Carolina in the community of White Plains – the twins would alternate spending three days at each home. During the American Civil War Chang's son Christopher and Eng's son Stephen both fought for the Confederacy. Chang and Eng lost part of their property as a result of the war, and were very bitter in their denunciation of the government in consequence. After the war, they again resorted to public exhibitions, but were not very successful. They always maintained a high character for integrity and fair dealing, and were much esteemed by their neighbors. The twins died on the same day in January of 1874. Chang, who had contracted pneumonia, died rather suddenly in his sleep. Eng awoke to find his brother dead, and called for his wife and children to attend to him. A doctor was summoned to perform an emergency separation, but Eng refused to be separated from his dead brother. He died three hours later.