North Carolina Connections
Editor's Note – In the summer of 2012, Ansley Wegner, a historian with our Research Branch, wrote a series of blog posts highlighting various historical destinations around the state. This is the tenth post in that series. You can see all Wegner's posts on this page.
I don’t think that many people are aware that the two most famous sets of conjoined twins in the 19th century called North Carolina home – Chang and Eng Bunker (known as the original Siamese Twins) and Millie-Christine McKoy (sometimes called the Carolina Twins or the Two-Headed Nightingale).
The Bunkers Retired to the Piedmont
Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Thailand (then called Siam) in 1811, amassed a fortune for themselves on the circus and exhibition circuit and retired to North Carolina in 1839. They first lived in Wilkes County, where they married sisters Sarah and Adelaide Yates.
With growing families, the brothers purchased land in Surry County and built large homes a little over a mile apart. For the rest of their lives they spent three nights at one house and then three nights at the other. If you visit the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy you can see a large collection of Siamese Twin memorabilia. The North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill has Chang and Eng papers and artifacts.
"The Two-Headed Nightingale"
Millie-Christine considered herself one person and railroad lines even issued letters to conductors instructing them to require only one ticket for the “dual woman.” She was born into slavery near Whiteville in Columbus County, in 1851.
Exhibited initially as a curiosity, the twins eventually learned to sing and dance. She even performed for Queen Victoria in England.
Having eventually been able to profit from shows and exhibitions (after emancipation), Millie Christine purchased the Columbus County property on which she’d been born.
Where to Learn More
The State Archives has manuscript collections for both Millie-Christine and Chang and Eng—they have put together an educational resources site that includes digitized images of some of the documents.
Chang and Eng and Millie-Christine are buried in North Carolina, and using FindAGrave.com, you can see their final resting places. (You can also see the grave of celebrated 20th century conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, who spent their last years working at a grocery store in Charlotte.)