Rosa and Josefa Blažek were born in Skrejšov, Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic) on January 20, 1878, to an agrarian family with one normal daughter. They were born vaginally, with Rosa appearing first. Anatomically, the twins were quite incredible: most pygopagus twins share a soft-tissue connection only, many bound together by a cartilaginous ligament at the base of the spine, but Rosa and Josepha shared bony fusion beginning at the ninth thoracic vertebra.


As the story goes, a superstitious Mrs. Blažek consulted a local practitioner of folk medicine to discover the cause of her twins' unusual connection. The medicine woman instructed the Blažeks to withhold food and water from the infant twins for eight days. The parents complied, yet miraculously the twins survived, this being viewed as a divine message that the twins were put on this earth for a purpose. That purpose, it would soon appear, was to make money for their family. When the twins were as young as a year old, they were placed on exhibition in local fairs, to the delight of rural audiences. At the age of two they could walk, leaning against each other for balance and stepping first with their "anterior" pair of legs and then with their "posterior" pair. Josepha's left leg was approximately two inches shorter than her right, so only the ball of her foot made contact with the ground; later, custom-made heeled shoes would hide this defect. By age four the twins were able to talk and received lessons from private tutors, although show business was given top priority and the sisters spent much of their time learning the violin.


Like many conjoined twins, the sisters had radically different personalities; Rosa was talkative and witty, while Josefa was quiet and introverted. The sisters had distinctly different tastes in food and although they shared sensations, one often slept while the other was awake, and they were hungry and thirsty at different times. Rosa was the stronger of the two sisters, both physically and in terms of her personality. Their American manager, Jess E. Rose, spoke of the twins' differences: "Rosa was the guiding genius of the two. What Rosa would think...Josefa would do; when Rosa became hungry, Josefa would demand food; when Rosa willed to walk, Josefa automatically stepped forward. Rosa always planned and Josefa put the plans, without even words to convey the suggestion, into action."


Another pronounced difference between the sisters was Rosa's interest in the opposite sex. Although the twins shared sensations in the genital area (but had separate vaginae above a joined vaginal orifice), Josefa consistently claimed that she disapproved of Rosa's behavior. In 1909, one of Rosa's liaisons resulted in pregnancy. She claimed she had intercourse but once, on July 20 of that year, but refused to name her partner. Speculation arose that the twins' agent was the responsible party, and he evidently believed the rumors, as he offered the twins a covert settlement of 95,000 marks a year for three years. In April of 1910 Rosa checked into the Kukula Surgical Clinic in Prague with complaints of appendicitis; however, Rosa's recent history of abdominal swelling and lack of menses belied the true cause of their "illness". On April 16, a baby boy was delivered vaginally after an unremarkable labor.


Few details of Rosa's unprecedented delivery were ever reported. This is partially due to a certain amount of secrecy, maintained with the intent of protecting the twins' reputation, but also on account of the doctors' mishandling of the case. None of the medical men on duty had ever heard of a conjoined twin giving birth. By the time the head physician, a Dr. Stanislav Tobiasko, was notified, Rosa's contractions had begun, and when he arrived, the baby was already born, despite attempts to delay her labor by applying ice to her abdomen.


Nevertheless, in the absence of first-hand information, the press did not hesitate to fill in the details themselves. European papers teemed with fictionalized accounts of the twins' sexual escapades, indicting Rosa as a harlot and maintaining that Josepha was an unwilling victim of her sister's immorality. One Vienna paper went to far as to claim Josepha was drugged to silence her protests as Rosa had intercourse!


The baby boy was named Franz, after his alleged father, a soldier named Franz Dvorak, but was known by the diminutive Franzl or "Little Franz". Both twins produced milk and were able to nurse the child, although a wet nurse was employed for the sake of convenience. At one point Franzl was left in an orphanage while his mother(s) toured. According to Rose, their manager, "The fact that both women were able to nurse the child at birth proved the intimacy of their physical relationship." Rosa desired to marry Franz Sr. and was allowed to do so only after a lengthy court battle, and even then he was fined for bigamy. He was killed in 1917 while fighting in the Austrian (some say German) army, but Rosa called herself Mrs. Dvorak for the rest of her life. At one point Josefa also became engaged to marry, but her fiancée died of appendicitis before the wedding could take place.


As he grew, Franz Jr. joined the twins' traveling show, and he was with them in 1921 when they came to the United States to perform. A prior engagement at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in New York had been their first American experience, but now the twins sought to join vaudeville. They established a home base in Chicago, amongst a large population of Czech immigrants. However, their American dream would be cut brutally short only a few months later, as Rosa became ill with influenza. During her three-week recovery, Josepha also became ill, complaining of stomach pains. The sisters' illnesses (including diphtheria at age 12 and rheumatic fever with Syndenham's chorea) had always been experienced separately, and by the time Josepha became sick, Rosa was well. Doctors who examined Josepha failed to agree on a diagnosis. She was admitted to Chicago's West End Hospital on March 25, 1922. She soon slipped into a coma, amid discussions of separating the twins to salvage Rosa.

As the twins lay dying, they were visited by their brother, Frank. Early accounts of the twins' family life make no mention of a brother, so it's assumed that he was born some years after his famous sisters. Frank, it seemed, had his eye on the sisters' fortune, an estimated $100,000-200,000. When Rosa also became comatose, Frank took it upon himself to speak for the sisters. He expressly forbade any attempt to separate them , claiming that it's what they would've wanted. American papers provided different accounts of the twins' last moments of consciousness, some claiming the twins begged to be separated, while others claimed they staunchly insisted on dying together. Most, however, villified Frank for refusing to allow an operation that would give Rosa a fighting chance. A postmortem x-ray later revealed that their spines were too extensively fused for separation to be viable.


Josepha Blažek died on March 30, 1922, five days after her arrival at the hospital. Rosa followed 12 minutes later. With the twins' deaths, a Pandora's box of legal problems was opened, revolving around the sisters' fortune. They had no will, and it had to be determined who would get that money - Frank, their brother, or Rosa's son Franzl? The confusion was sparked by the fact that Franzl, for most of his 12 years, had been billed as "the son of two mothers". If this were truly the case, then both Rosa's and Josepha's shares of the money would belong to him, with Frank receiving nothing. This was unacceptable, so Frank ordered an autopsy to determine which sister was the true mother of the child.


On April 2, three days after the twins' deaths, a detailed postmortem examination was conducted by three prominent doctors in the garage of a Chicago funeral home. The doctors found that the twins had separate uteri - proof that Rosa alone was the mother of Franzl. Other findings included situs inversus of Rosa's liver and very limited circulatory conjoinment, explaining why illness was experienced separately by the sisters. That Franzl wasn't a "boy of two mothers" after all was exactly what Frank wanted to hear - but soon after the twins had already been lain to rest in Chicago's Bohemian National Cemetery, the truth about the twins so-called fortune was revealed: they had but $400 between them.


Text courtesy of Elizabeth Anderson - Phreeque Show



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