The following article
app-eared Sunday, December 7th, 1997 in "The
Charlotte Observer" newspaper.
Also reprinted in Sideshow
Newsletter Sept. - Oct. 2004
It answers many of the
questions we might have had regarding the Hiltons' last years in
A story of 2 sisters, together always...Tommy Tomlinson Side by
side the two sisters walked into the Park-N-Shop on Wilkinson
Boulevard on a warm winter day in 1962.
Charles Reid owned the grocery store. He knew what the women
wanted. It scared him half to death.
Daisy and Violet Hilton had troweled on the makeup. Red toenails
poked out from their sandals. Their hair was dirty and their
clothes looked like they had been slept in.
They wanted Charles Reid to give them a job.
They would both work,
they said, but Reid would only have to pay for one.
Because of their situation. They were fused at the hip. Siamese
twins. They had been in
a couple of
times that week buying groceries, and the day before they had
called Reid and asked if they could come in and talk to him.
At the time Reid didn't know about the history of Daisy and
How they were displayed in freak shows before they were old
enough for school.
How they became vaudeville performers who once made thousands of
dollars a week nearly all of it snatched away by their
How their show business career had faded, then crumbled just a
few weeks before when their manager stranded them in Monroe,
broke and desperate.
Reid didn't know any of that. All he could see was the need in
After they called that day, he prayed that night.
"Lord, I know you want me to do something with these people.
What in the world would I do with them?"
What he did was this: He gave them a job. (He paid them both.)
He found them a house and showed them a church.
And the Hilton twins quietly spent the rest of their lives in
Charlotte, no one but a few friends and co-workers ever knowing
that Siamese twins lived in town.
Now, nearly 30 years after their deaths, the Hilton twins are
stars again. A new Broadway musical called "Side Show" is based
on the Hiltons' show-business careers.
But what the Broadway show doesn't tell is the story of the
Hiltons' lives in Charlotte.
The only normal lives they ever had.
Stranded in Norm Carolina.
As they faced you, Violet Hilton was on the left, Daisy on the
right. Violet's left hip joined Daisy's right at a 45-degree
angle; they moved in a permanent V, like a flock of geese.
They didn't share any organs, but their blood flowed through
both bodies. Some people say they shared each other's thoughts.
At the very least, they shared instincts.
"They never said, 'Let's go over yonder' or anything like that.
"says Charles Reid, who is now 76,"They just got up and started
They were barely scraping out a living as '61 bled into '62.
They had given up show business once before, to run a snack bar
in Miami, but the snack bar folded and they ended up back on the
They were over fifty years old when they swung through North
Carolina in January, 1962 to promote the horror movie, "Freaks."
The Hiltons had appeared in "Freaks" 30 years before, and now it
was making a run through the drive-ins.
How they ended up in Monroe isn't clear - a lot about the
Hiltons' lives isn't clear - but what is clear, is that the
manager, who had traveled with them, suddenly left them behind.
They stayed in a Monroe Hotel for a couple of weeks, trying to
find work. The hotel bill mounted. Finally some business
people raised enough money to send the Hiltons to Charlotte.
Everybody figured they could blend in better in the city.
Daisy and Violet rented a place at Tanzy's Trailer Park on
Wilkinson Boulevard. Soon after, they asked Charles Reid For a
They offered to scrub floors, but Reid couldn't imagine what his
customers would do if they saw that. He had just one job that
he thought they could easily do together.
The Park-N-Shop had a long produce section at the back of the
store. At the end of the section, there were two counters where
people lined up to have their produce weighed and priced.
The counters ran parallel, but it was easy enough to turn them
into a V.
Reid had a couple of conditions. They had to get rid of makeup
and the long nails and the whole show-biz look. And their hair
had to be the same color - Violet's was a natural brunet, but
Daisy had dyed hers red.
Reid's wife, Larue, took the Hiltons to have their hair fixed
and buy some new clothes. The twins bought three pair of
skirts they could alter at home, ripping the seams apart and
sewing two skirts into one.
Reid gave them two red and white checked shirts, just like
everyone else at Park-N-Shop wore.
The next Monday they came to work. For the next seven years
they worked the same shift, 8 am to 4:30 pm.
Most of the people who came through the produce lines never knew
their apples and potatoes were being weighed by Siamese twins.
Making a life in Charlotte
After a few months in Charlotte they asked Reid for another
favor - help in finding a house.
Reid knew just the place. His church, Purcell United Methodist
over on Weyland Avenue, had bought several pieces of land around
the church to turn into parking lots. They didn't need all the
land right then, and a couple of the lots still had houses on
them. After getting the okay from the church elders, the Hiltons
moved into a house kitty-corner from the church.
"It had two bed-rooms." Reid says, "but of course they only
They also needed furniture. Reid made a call to Archie Moore,
who ran Clinton Furniture Company on Brevard St. uptown. He got
them a couch and a bed and a dinette set.
They got a dog, a mixed breed with a lot of Lab in him. Leo
Wingate used to buy rubber rats two dozen at a time for the
dog to chew on.
Wingate was a bread salesman for Merita who made deliveries to
the Park-N-Shop and got to be friends with the Hiltons.
Sometimes he'd be on his route and see them walking to work and
pull over to give them a ride. They were tiny - 4 feet 10, about
90 pounds apiece and they could slip in and out of a car just as
easy as you please.
Wingate also went to Purcell United Methodist, where the twins
attended from time to time. The church had a do-good box, where
they collected money for charity projects, and the twins always
put money in the do-good box on top of their regular tithe.
When they went to Sunday school they attended the men's class.
Wingate thinks they were more comfortable around men, that women
asked too many questions. The Rev. Ernest Fitzgerald, their
pastor from 1962 to 1964, figures it was because the men's class
was on ground level and the women's class was in the basement.
Either way, they kept to themselves.
"Daisy's the one that did most of the talking," Wingate says.
"The other one didn't have anything to say except once in a
while Daisy would be talking about somewhere she had been, and
Violet would poke her in the ribs and say, "I was there too."
They would chat with customers at the Park-N-Shop, but they
refused to do interviews or have their picture taken for the
paper. An Illinois doctor known as an expert on Siamese twins
came to Charlotte in 1967 to talk to the Hiltons. They turned
him down. Daisy and Violet hated doctors. "Every doctor that put
their hands on them, the first thing they wanted to do was cut
them apart," Reid says. "They could have been separated, even
back then, but they didn't want to." "They said to me, 'Mr.
Reid, we've been together our whole life, we don't ever want to
Taken by the Hong Kong flu
And so they lived,
never making a fuss, until 1968 bled into 1969. Then Violet
caught the Hong Kong Flu. And just as Violet got better, Daisy
caught it. They were gone from work for a couple of weeks. The
Reids called every day to check on them. If Daisy and Violet
didn't want to be bothered, they'd take the phone off the hook.
But one day the phone rang and rang and nobody answered.
Reid waited until the next morning - Jan. 4, 1969 - and called
every hour. Still no answer. So he and his wife drove to the
little house across from the church. They banged on the
door and nobody came. They called the police. An officer
came and asked Reid what he wanted to do. Reid asked the
policeman to pry open the door. The rooms in the house on
Weyland Avenue were connected by a little hallway in the middle
of the house. The house was heated through a grate in the
Daisy and Violet lay dead on the grate.
Reid figures they were trying to keep warm as the Hong Kong Flu
took them away.
Their death certificates estimated they were 60 years old.
There were 23 flower arrangements at the funeral at Hankins and
Whittington funeral home on South Boulevard. The crowd was
mostly friends and co-workers; Charles Reid saw only one family
he didn't recognize.
They were buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery off Freedom Drive. "It
was just like an ordinary funeral," Leo Wingate says, "except
for there being two in one casket and all",
The Hiltons share a tombstone with a Vietnam Vet named Troy
Thompson, and they have a simple marker in the ground: Daisy and
Violet Hilton 1908-1969 "Beloved Siamese Twins" It was Charles
Reid's job to clean out the house on Weyland Avenue.
The only thing out of the ordinary was a dresser, four or five
drawers, and every drawer filled with pocket books. And every
pocketbook had three or four dollars inside.
"The only thing I can figure," Charles Reid says, "is that they
took lots of taxicabs, and they could just grab a pocketbook on
the way out and know there was cab fare in it."
Reid found a bunch of photos and newspaper clippings from the
Hiltons' show-biz days. But they were all stowed away.
Click on Twins
None of their movie posters on the walls. None of their publicity
photos on the dressers.
Just a normal little house where two sisters lived out their
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