Chang & Eng
by Harley Newman
January 17th, 2004 marks the 130th
anniversary of the deaths of Chang and Eng, the original Siamese
Twins, who gained substantial fame and fortune through the
Although they were of Chinese descent,
they were born in what was then Siam, and were presented to the
on a couple of occasions.
They were physically and
intellectually capable kids. Their father died when they were
quite young, and they developed a business in duck-raising and
manufacture of fermented eggs that were considered a delicacy.
They were “discovered” by Robert
Hunter, a British merchant/fortune-hunter, while swimming. Hunter
took them to be some kind of very strange animal, and followed
them home. He eventually received permission from the King, to
take the boys to the West, for purposes of exhibition. Their
mother was supposed to receive $1000 for the privilege of losing
her sons, but only received $500.
Hunter teamed up with Captain Abel
Coffin in managing Chang and Eng, and paid them a nominal salary
while raking in huge profits, only a small portion of which they
fed back into the business enterprise.
In their exhibitions, they were known
for intelligent conversation, wherein each could start a sentence
that the other would finish. They did flips. They danced. And if
something went wrong, they acquired a reputation for more than
holding their own in a fight.
Chang and Eng, upon reaching the age
of maturity, took over their own management, and earned
substantial sums. They retired to Mount Airy, North Carolina,
where they purchased land, married a pair of sisters, farmed, and
proceeded to raise families, totaling 21 or 22 children (depending
on the information source).
ten years of marriage, their wives didn’t get along so well any
more. Chang and Eng built another house, and instituted a system
of spending three days in each house, and then going to the other.
They never violated this rule.
At whichever house, the owner was
absolute boss. This led to problems between them, as Chang liked
drinking whiskey in excess, and had a fiery temper. Eng was only a
moderate drinker. On several occasions they came to blows.
When the American Civil War occurred,
they lost all their money, being on the losing side, and decided
to go back on tour. They’d been retired long enough that they’d
lost most of their connections, so they turned to P.T. Barnum for
management. They neither liked nor trusted Barnum.
On their final European tour, they may
have seriously discussed the possibility of separation with
eminent surgeons. However, this was a publicity scam that they’d
worked with great success, earlier in their careers, so its
seriousness is suspect.
Chang had a stroke on the voyage back,
and never completely recovered from it.
January of 1874 was cold. Chang got a
cold which may have been controlled, had they not had the rule of
changing houses. It developed into pneumonia. And he died, either
from a stroke or pneumonic complications.
Folk history says that Eng died of
fright, upon finding himself bound to the corpse of his brother.
This is not so. They shared a liver, and some circulatory system
parts. The heart of each circulated blood through his own body,
and into that of his brother as well.
And so when Chang died, Eng continued
to pump blood into his dead body. Chang could no longer pump it
Eng died of loss of blood.
Their body(s) were eventually sent to
the Philadelphia College of Physicians for an autopsy. The plaster
death cast of their body(s) is in a display case there, in the
Mutter Museum, the sewn-up incisions from the autopsy being
On the shelf under the cast is their
The rest of them is buried in North
Dates adjusted and verified with
information from Yorke Haynes, Great-Great Grandson of Chang
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