The Exciting lives of Chang and Eng Bunker
Have you ever wondered where the term ‘Siamese Twin’ comes from? Surprisingly many people associate it with Siamese cats instead of the land of Siam; we’re not sure why this is. However, as the name suggests, this term was coined because the first famous set of conjoined twins came from the Kingdom of Siam, known now as Thailand. The story of their lives has its rumors, but what’s certain is behind the fascinations and speculations, were two brothers said to be respected and well liked by anyone who knew them. As one of the few celebrities known across the world- at the time-they were considered by some to be “the eighth wonder of the world”.
From Rags to Riches
Chang and Eng Bunker, we’ll get to the very non-Thai last name in a moment, were born to a peasant family in 1811. Although fused at their livers and sternum, the twins had independently working bodies. It is rumored that because of their uniqueness, locals were frightened of the twins and King Rama II of Siam had even ordered them to be killed. With a sudden change of heart, the King spared their lives after learning of other similar births in nearby locations which had no harmful effects to other people. Living on a small houseboat, the boys became accepted by the locals and learned to take part in all the other activities that children typically did back then.
At age 18, the boys were discovered by British merchant Robert Hunter and American Sea Captain Able Coffin. Together, the men proposed to the twins a world tour and promised fame and fortune. With permission from their mother, the boys eagerly accepted the deal and began travelling to the lands of unknown worlds to be curiously gawked upon. From New York to Paris to Berlin, they were seen by thousands of people waiting in long lines for autographs, photos and handshakes. Although they were offered large sums of money to participate in the popular road side carnivals and ‘freak shows’, they refused. Instead they opted for classy presentations that depicted them as they really were; intelligent, kind and humorous. Each twin had their own personality that would lighten up any room. As they perfected their English, took on accent mimicking and trained for acrobatic performances, Chang and Eng became legends and loved around the world.
Settling Down as US Citizens
Chang and Eng were generously compensated throughout their worldly travels and during a trip to North Carolina, they decided to give up touring and go into business for themselves. They settled down onto a massive plot of land and became US citizens. The boys were determined to live a decent life as Americans and so adopted Bunker as their last name. They went on to build a large plantation home and even had slaves, as was the norm in those times. By 1843, these one of a kind Siamese Twins each fell in love with two sisters, who were not twins; Chang to Adelaide Yates and Eng to Sarah Anne Yates.
Although by all standards, this was a very unconventional marriage, the two couples are believed to have been very satisfied and produced a total of 21 children between them. With a household full of children, the sisters began to quarrel, eventually deciding that living in separate homes would be a better option. Nestled on the same land, the brothers split their time between their wives and children through an alternating 3 day schedule.
After the Civil War, the Bunker brothers became very bitter towards the American government due to a partial loss of their land. They had lost most of their money and the state’s economy was in turmoil. At age 54, they were determined to regain their wealth and so turned to more road show exhibitions; although it is unclear as to how successful they were.
The End of Days
In 1870, Chang suffered from a stroke which stopped them from touring. They sought out the help of a doctor which had to promise to surgically cut the twins free, should one die. For four more years, Chang suffered from physical and mental aliments as a result of the stroke. In the early morning hours in February, 1874, Chang died in his sleep. Awoken by physical pain, Eng realized his brother had passed away and had his wife contact the doctor to perform the surgery. Unfortunately, Eng passed away before the doctor had time to reach him.
Immediately following their deaths, rumors spread through the town that their bodies would be sold on the black market for medical examination and experimentation. Learning about this, Christopher and Stephen Bunker, sons of the Siamese twins, took their father’s bodies and put them into a single coffin. They were placed in the cellar of Eng’s house for up to a year before they were buried under a tree in front of Chang’s house. In 1917, the coffin was moved to the White Plains Baptist Church where it still remains and their livers was preserved and put on display at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
And there you have it, the Story of the Siamese Twins.