- Historic Sites
Never Alone At Last
World-famous as medical curiosities, the original Siamese twins married, brought up families, and, as American citi'/ens, became prosperous planters in the Old South
August 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 5
That brief “last” period of exhibition in 1853 did not suffice. Chang and Eng suffered financially after the Civil War, particularly from the loss of their slaves. A shy but enterprising young Confederate veteran, Major Henry A. London, on returning home after Lee’s surrender, became interested in helping the twins as a means of helping himself in desperate times. Recently his daughter recalled : After the War Between the States my father, who was 18 years old, and his brother-inlaw, Mr. Zimmerman, went to the Siamese twins in Mt. Airy to see if they would be interested in making some money (as everyone in the South was broke) and be exhibited again in the North. They were delighted over the idea, so Father and Mr. Zimmerman became the advance press agents, going to various organizations and displaying the pictures of the Siamese twins, etc. When they came to Baltimore and the fashionable resort of Cape May, Mr. Zimmerman would stay in his room as he was so afraid he would be seen by some of his friends. They did this for a season and all made some much needed money.
Not satisfied with the proceeds of Major London’s efforts, Chang and Eng set out for Europe again, this time under the more expert direction of P. T. Barnum. While returning from Liverpool to America in 1870, Chang had a paralytic stroke during one of his increasingly frequent alcoholic debauches. As this involved his left arm and leg, Eng henceforth carried much of Chang’s weight.
Back on their plantations in North Carolina, on Monday, January 12, 1874, Chang developed a “dry cough with scanty, frothy sputum.” He complained, too, of a pain in his chest. Dr. Hollingsworth directed that he not venture out. Nevertheless, on Thursday, the usual day to move to Eng’s house, he honored the agreement, and they made the trip in an open buggy in very cold weather. Eng remained in excellent health throughout Chang’s illness. On Friday Chang felt better but that night he “had such severe pain in the chest, and so much distress he thought he would die.”
The twins were alone in a room with a young son of Eng’s. Sometime in the course of the night they got up and sat by the fire. Eng wanted to retire but Chang insisted upon sitting up, as his “breathing was so bad that it would kill me to lie down.” Finally about one o’clock they went to bed; after an hour or so the family heard someone call but no one went to them.
Later Eng awakened and asked his son, “How is your Uncle Chang?”
The boy said, “Uncle Chang is cold-Uncle Chang is dead.”
When Eng’s wife entered the room, he began crying out to her: “My last hour is come … I am dying.”
He did not speak of his brother’s death.
“He rubbed his upper extremities,” the old medical records say, “and raised them restlessly, and complained of a choking sensation. The only notice he took of Chang was to move nearer to him. Eng’s last words were, ‘May the Lord have mercy upon my soul.’ ”
Dr. Hollingsworth did not reach the house until both twins were dead. Though the family were averse to an autopsy, he obtained consent to put the bodies in a position to be preserved until he could obtain an expert to perform one. The bodies were cooled and placed in a coffin that was put in a wooden box enclosed in tin; this was imbedded in charcoal in the dry cellar of Eng’s home. William Augustus Reich, the local tinsmith, in a letter (probably to his sister) written from Mt. Airy on January 19, 1874, told about the unusual coffin: Dear Darling J
I write you a few lines this morning. I expect you heard the Siamese twins are dead. I got an order late Saturday evening for a large tin coffin. I made it. I worked nearly all night, finished it about noon yesterday. Cut out yesterday afternoon and soldered them up. It was a sight the people that was there. It was a long time before I could get my foot in at the door, so crowded. It was like a camp meeting so many people horses and carriages. It was most night before I got through soldering them up. They are not going to bury them but keep them in the house. I expect they are afraid somebody would steal them. The Siamese twins is the greatest human curiosity in the world and who ever thought I would be the man to solder them up. I had to cut into 34 big sheets of tin to make the coffin. I have a notion to charge $20 do you think that would be about right? Their death was sudden and unexpected on Friday night late. … All the doctors went out Saturday morning prepared to cut them apart, but they were both dead when they got there. I heard somebody say that Chang had always been accustomed to liquor, but had not used any for a few days and perhaps caused a reaction. … They were both real business men and have large families. … The Siamese twins were nicely dressed in black with slippers on. I helped lift them in their coffin it was a strange sight. I must close with our best love I remain
Affectionately Augustus It was a sight to see the people that came to my house to see me make this coffin. It was the greatest job I ever done. I send you a drop of solder that dropped on the coffin as I was soldering them up yesterday.