Chang and Eng Bunker led extraordinary lives. Born as conjoined twins, they lived in poverty in Siam before coming to the West to be showcased as “freaks.” And even though they ultimately found success as the famous “Siamese Twins,” it was never easy: They endured great prejudice, exploitation, and an incredible loss of their bodily autonomy. Still, they eventually found their voices and soared up the American social ladder…but at what cost?
1. Their Appearance Was Startling
As one could imagine, the twins’ debut into the world was a bit of a shocker. Chang and Eng Bunker were born on May 11, 1811, in Meklong, Siam (now Thailand), to their mother, Nok, and their father, a Chinese fisherman named Ti-eye. Although their mother claimed that their birth wasn’t any more laborious than those of her other children, the sight of the twins reportedly horrified the midwives.
2. Their Mother Saved Them
Distressingly, both Chang and Eng were connected at their sternums by a band of flesh. Even worse, the band was twisted, forcing the infants into a dangerous face-to-face position. Fortunately, while the midwives were presumably busy staring at each other in confusion, Nok’s instincts kicked in—and she did something jaw-dropping.
In a move that likely saved the twins’ lives, she reportedly untwisted their band, which connected to just one umbilical cord, and repositioned the twins so they could instead lay staring into each other’s eyes. Still, there were more challenges to come.
3. They Lived As Normally As Possible
Nok was adamant that her babies would live regular lives. So, as Chang and Eng grew older, she urged them to exercise to try to stretch their connection, and as a result, their band eventually extended just long enough to allow them to walk alongside each other. After that, there was no stopping them. The twins were energetic, happy-go-lucky kids who endlessly ran around and played with their friends.
But sadly, the joys of their youth were short-lived.
4. They Suffered A Heartbreaking Loss
Chang and Eng’s carefree childhood all but came to an abrupt end when a smallpox epidemic hit their community hard in 1819. Although both boys caught the sickness and miraculously survived, their father, Ti-eye, wasn’t nearly as lucky. He died from the illness when they were only eight years old. Naturally, losing their father was devastating for the twins in more ways than one.
5. They Fell On Hard Times
Because Ti-eye was the household’s breadwinner, Chang and Eng’s family struggled financially without him. Unfortunately, their mother’s solution to the problem was devastating. You see, shortly after they lost their father, the twins somehow wound up employed in the cocoa bean oil industry. But remember: They were eight years old when their dad passed, meaning that (by today’s standards, at least) these poor tykes were working as child laborers. Not cool.
Still, the universe ultimately had other plans for the twins.
6. They Caught Someone’s Eye
After a few years, Chang and Eng abandoned the oil business to help their mother raise ducks for eggs and travel as merchants. Then, a chance encounter changed their prospects forever. While out for a sunset swim in the Menam River in 1824, the twins accidentally scared the pants off a Scottish merchant named Robert Hunter, who was floating in a fishing boat nearby.
At least, until he looked a little closer…
7. He Mistook Them For Something Inhuman
At first, the wide-eyed merchant assumed he’d just seen some sort of “strange animal” swimming in the river (ahem—not cool). However, Robert quickly realized his mistake upon meeting the conjoined twins and discovering that, yup, the boys were actually human after all. Fortunately, there’s no indication that Chang and Eng were offended by the identity error, so I imagine they all got a good chuckle over it.
But then, Robert’s previously startled eyes suddenly turned into dollar signs.
8. He Convinced Them To Travel West
For Robert, his serendipitous encounter with the conjoined twins must have felt like winning the lottery—imagine the riches he could fetch with them! Of course, it took Robert almost no effort at all to convince the nearly destitute Chang and Eng of their potential worth. He told them of his ingenious plan. All they had to do was follow him back to the West, where they could earn a quick and easy fortune simply by putting themselves on display.
It’d be super easy peasy, right? Well, actually, no…
9. Their Mother Was Hesitant
Although Chang and Eng agreed to the too-good-to-be-true proposition straightaway, the twins weren’t the only ones Robert had to persuade, and naturally, Nok didn’t want to let her sons go. Not only did she love her boys, but she needed them to work to help support their super large family. They had seven siblings in total, four older and three younger.
So, thinking fast, Robert came up with a solution.
10. They Negotiated An Agreement
To help put everyone’s minds at ease, Robert proposed that they all sign a contract stating that Chang and Eng’s tour would be limited to five years (ha, fat chance). Robert also offered Nok $500 to financially compensate for the loss of income she’d have to endure due to the twins’ absence. It did the trick: Feeling more reassured, they all signed the contract together, and then it was a done deal.
Unfortunately, that deal later sparked a nasty rumor.
11. Their Contract Stirred A Lot Of Gossips
Although the agreement was probably well-intentioned at the time, Chang and Eng’s contract eventually fell under fierce scrutiny when the public learned about it. You see, because money technically exchanged hands between Robert and Nok, a terrible rumor spread. People whispered that the twins’ mother had essentially sold them to Robert…as slaves. Oof.
Naturally, the outcry against their mother profoundly hurt the twins, and they categorically denied any wrongdoing on Nok’s part. But that wasn’t even the worst of their problems.
12. They Caught The King’s Eye
Eventually, the King of Siam became aware of Chang and Eng’s unique existence and immediately forbade them from leaving the country. However, the reason why isn’t clear. While some speculate that the king wished to show the conjoined twins off at court, Robert Hunter later claimed that it was due to a far more sinister reason.
13. Their Lives Were In Danger
According to Robert, the king ordered Chang and Eng to remain in Siam because he ultimately intended to execute them. Now, whether or not this version of events is accurate may never be known. Still, there’s no question that it took Robert and his American sea captain partner, Abel Coffin, five long years to persuade the monarch.
They claimed to have bribed him with a telescope and a temple dancer troupe to allow the twins to leave. If only the twins had known what lay ahead of them…
14. They Became Media Curiosities
On April 1, 1829, Chang and Eng, now 17 years old, finally boarded a trading vessel to Boston, Massachusetts. Though the trip was grueling—138 days!—the twins kept busy along the way by learning English. And when they finally landed on August 16, they were in for a shock. They arrived to a media storm intent on hyping them up.
15. They Gained The Public’s Attention
It all started the very next day when the Boston Patriot reported that the conjoined twins would “probably be exhibited to the public.” After that, other news organizations were quick to hop on their bandwagon, so to speak…just not necessarily in a good way. A lot of the articles viewed the twins through a very sensationalized and, well, prejudiced lens.
In fact, most of the articles were wrought with ethnic stereotypes—and even outright lies—about them. But that was only a smidgeon of what was to come.
16. They Went On Display
Robert and Abel promptly hired a manager named James W. Hale to help get the twins’ exhibit going. Before long, American gawkers could gaze upon the wonder that was “The Siamese Double Boys” for a mere 25 cents—though Chang and Eng actually preferred to be called “The Siamese Youths.” James even ensured that pamphlets or drawings of the twins would be available for their audiences to purchase as souvenirs.
Excitingly, their show started to gain traction. However, it wasn’t exactly in good taste…
17. The Show Crudely Emphasized Their Heritage
Apparently, someone at some point lost sight of the fact that it was Chang and Eng’s conjoined status—and not their ethnicity—that was supposed to be their primary audience pull. Regardless, the show seemed to purposely exploit and capitalize on the twins’ Asian background by dressing them in “Oriental” garb and styling their hair into pigtails to accentuate their “exoticness” (ugh).
And that wasn’t all…
18. They Performed Like Show Ponies
For four hours a day, six days a week, Chang and Eng displayed themselves as “public curiosities” at various theatres and venues across the United States. Although showcasing their physical connection always remained a key feature of their exhibit, the duo soon took to performing parlor tricks, acrobatics, and feats of strength—together, they could carry a 280-pound man—to make their “freak show” all the more entertaining.
Unique as they were, Chang and Eng became an instant hit. Unfortunately, they soon found themselves in demand for more than just amusement.
19. Physicians Demanded To Examine Them
Following the success of their show, Chang and Eng quickly drew the medical community’s attention. Before long, some of the greatest doctors in America began gathering to see the twins for themselves, and upon realizing that the brothers were the real deal, they begged for permission to examine them. But some doctors had more sinister intentions. Some wanted to experiment on them.
20. The Medical Community Coveted Them
You see, the doctors were practically drooling over Chang and Eng because (at the time) few conjoined twins ever survived into adulthood. Yet, here they were: the shiniest of medical marvels. With their connecting band now approximately the size of a child’s arm, Eng stood at 5’2” tall, while Chang (who was attached to Eng’s left, from their perspective) was an inch shorter than his brother and wore lifts in his shoes to keep from pulling Eng down.
But surely, the doctors would never be allowed to experiment on them, right? Nope, wrong…
21. The Offers Intrigued Their Managers
Even though Chang and Eng earned a profit from all their performances, Abel Coffin supposedly once boasted to a group of people that he and Robert Hunter “owned” them, thereby signaling that he probably didn’t care very much about the twins’ personal rights and freedoms. Especially since, as it turned out, the doctors’ offers actually piqued his interest for one majorly selfish reason.
22. They Had To Tolerate Multiple Medical Examinations
The twins’ handlers wanted to use the medical community’s seal of approval to bolster the show even further. In fact, Chang and Eng’s promoters later decided to actually mention in their showcase posters that, according to the doctors, even women and children could watch the twins “without harm or offense.” Yes, really.
Regrettably, such ringing medical endorsements came at the expense of the twins’ bodily autonomy, not to mention their comfort…
23. They Endured Weird Experiments
Honestly, Chang and Eng put up with such annoying medical studies that, as far as I can tell, the only thing the doctors truly tested was the twins’ patience. One doctor kept sneaking into their room at night to see if touching one brother would wake the other, while another repeatedly pricked at their connecting band with needles just to test who it would hurt more.
The doctors also fed the twins sour foods and subjected them to tickle tests…You know, for science. Fortunately, Chang and Eng’s endless patience paid off in the end.
24. Their Tour Went International
In time, Chang and Eng grew so popular that their handlers decided to take their show overseas. In 1830, the twins set sail to meet their British audiences—and also, unfortunately, meet with British doctors. Nevertheless, their trip was a success, and by the time they returned to New York in March 1831, they’d turned a large profit.
But then, things started to change…
25. They Lost Their Original Advocate
By this point, the twins were older, wealthier, and much more experienced in the biz…and they were finally starting to find their voices. Whether that factored into what happened next is unclear, but one thing remains for certain. Chang and Eng’s initial supporter, Robert Hunter, called it quits. He sold his portion of the show to Abel Coffin and then walked away for good.
It should’ve given them a fresh start—but instead, it was the beginning of a downward spiral for the twins.
26. They Got Caught In A Mob
That summer, while out on a hunting retreat with their manager in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, a group of more than a dozen local men randomly approached Chang and Eng. Believing that the men were there to mock and intimidate them, the situation quickly flew out of hand when one of the twins suddenly used the butt of their firearm to hit a man named Elbridge Gerry.
Of course, Elbridge didn’t like that and was quick to retaliate…
27. They Defended Themselves
Elbridge responded by grabbing a large rock and heaving it toward the twins, hitting one of them in the head. With one twin now bleeding, Chang and Eng fired back at him with their weapon, though (thankfully) their shot turned out to be blank. Even so, it was enough to scare the locals; they scattered, and the twins most likely figured that was the end of it.
Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.
28. The Locals Blamed Them
The next day, Chang and Eng learned the hard way that one of the men had filed charges against them. Uh-oh. Even though officers ended up detaining the twins for disturbing the peace, Chang and Eng quickly regained their freedom after appearing before a special court and paying a bond for good conduct. Still, their troubles weren’t over…
29. The Incident Hit The Newsstands
Somehow, the media caught wind of the brawl between the twins and the townspeople, with the Salem Mercury and other news outlets initially characterizing Chang and Eng as the victims, but Elbridge Gerry wasn’t having it. Two weeks after the incident, Elbridge penned an open letter entitled “To The Public” that got published in the press, claiming it was the twins—not him—who’d started the fight.
Then, Chang and Eng’s manager found out.
30. Their Manager Was Furious
When their manager at the time, James Hale, learned that the Lynnfield incident could potentially tarnish the twins’ prestige, the consequences were devastating. He hit the roof and quit. Fortunately, James’s successor turned out to be his friend, Charles Harris, whom he could advise with all sorts of helpful hints, like how to avoid paying exhibition taxes in Virginia.
And it looked like poor Charles would have his work cut out for him, too: As Chang and Eng struggled to deal with the fallout from their last incident, a whole new controversy erupted…
31. They Got Involved In Another Public Quarrel
In the middle of a performance in Alabama, yet another physician demanded that Chang and Eng Bunker allow him to examine their connecting band (oh, sigh). But this time, Chang and Eng said no: They hadn’t allowed doctor examinations for over two years by this point because they’d grown tired of getting poked and prodded by strangers.
Also, the pamphlets for their show included the results of the studies already conducted on them by renowned medical professionals, so why should they agree to yet another exam just to placate some rando? But frustratingly, the twins’ logic was lost on this doctor, a male Karen who didn’t understand the word “No.” Whew, boy…
32. Their Audience Turned On Them
Rather than respecting Chang and Eng’s wishes, the doctor became enraged and screamed, “You are all a bunch of pickpockets and impostors!” He then incited an uproar, causing audience members to throw things at the twins from across the room. Amidst the chaos, Chang and Eng understandably bolted, but unfortunately, running away turned out to be the wrong move…
33. They Wore The Blame
Once again, the twins were in hot water. Officials needed someone to blame for the mayhem—and it wasn’t about to be the jolly old doctor. Instead, Chang and Eng’s rapid exit off the stage made them appear extremely guilty in the eyes of the law, prompting the investigating officers to believe “they probably were the first ones to disturb the peace.” So, for the second time that year, the twins wound up paying a good-behavior bond.
Then, just like after the last incident, yet another close relationship of theirs broke down.
34. Their Needs Got Ignored
Abel Coffin frequently traveled, leaving his wife, Susan, responsible for the twins…and Susan was a total nightmare. In fact, Susan rapidly became a source of great distress for the twins, as she tended to neglect their needs, even rejecting their pleas for an extra $3 a week so they could afford to feed their horse. Growing desperate, Chang and Eng eventually begged their manager, Charles Harris, to intervene, hoping that he’d write letters to Susan on their behalf.
After some initial reluctance, Charles finally agreed. Still, his letters didn’t help, for one blood-boiling reason…
35. They Weren’t Considered Equals
Sadly, even though Chang and Eng perceived their business with the Coffins as a partnership of equals, the Coffins only ever saw the twins as their subordinates. Indeed, the Coffins forced the twins to perform when they were unwell, care for Susan whenever Abel was away, and once, while traveling, the Coffins even booked the twins into steerage as servants…and lied to their faces about it.
Needless to say, Chang and Eng were utterly miserable. So, they began plotting their exit strategy…
36. They Planned Their Escape
Because Abel once guaranteed the twins could be “their own men” when they turned 21, Chang and Eng became 100% determined to be free of the Coffins forever the moment they reached adulthood. But there was a problem: Abel had set sail for Asia in late 1831 with plans to come back to America in January, and he still hadn’t yet returned by the time the twins’ 21st birthday rolled around in May.
So, desperate for their freedom, Chang and Eng took drastic measures.
37. They Took Off On Their Own
Increasingly anxious at the thought that if Abel never came back, they’d be stuck working for the Coffins forever, Chang and Eng decided to split—rather unceremoniously, I might add. As a result, when Abel Coffin finally did return to Massachusetts in July 1832, it shocked him to his core to learn that Chang and Eng had gone AWOL. And, boy, was he ever mad.
38. They Got Tracked Down
With his prized cash cows on the run, Abel went nuts. He even falsely accused the twins’ former manager, James Hale, of “exciting his subjects to rebellion,” which I doubt James appreciated. After a frantic search, Abel eventually located the twins in Bath, New York, where he supposedly found them “whoring, gambling, and drinking.” Infuriated, Abel saw red.
39. Their Former Friend Confronted Them
Abel confessed to James that when he finally found Chang and Eng, he flew into a disturbing rage. He proceeded to give them the biggest “thrashing they ever had in their lives,” which definitely isn’t the way to go when you’re trying to win your friends back. Sure enough, the twins refused to return with Abel. Interestingly, Abel later downplayed the entire encounter with the twins in a letter to his wife, writing: “We have had much talk; they seem to feel themselves quite free from me.”
And free, they were…
40. They Took Control
Now that Chang and Eng had regained control of their lives, they could finally run their show the way they wanted. In a bit of a shakeup, they contracted their own crew, began dressing in American attire, and they even took to conversing with their audiences in English. Perhaps most tellingly, they stopped presenting themselves as “boys” and instead began referring to themselves as “The Siamese Twins.”
Still, things didn’t feel quite right. Ultimately, Chang and Eng needed to make an even more drastic change…
41. They Quit
Having devoted nearly 10 years of their lives to getting gawked at by strangers, Chang and Eng’s excitement for the spotlight began to wane. They’d grown weary of being labeled as “human oddities,” and now that they’d accumulated a nice chunk of wealth, all they wanted was to live as normally as possible. So in October 1839, the twins quit the biz (sort of) and retired to North Carolina, where they acquired a 150-acre farm in Wilkes County.
But that’s not to say their fame didn’t still come in handy from time to time…
42. They Wanted Citizenship Status
Fame has its perks, and in Chang and Eng’s case, their celebrity allowed them to rub elbows with the members of the elite Wilkes society while in North Carolina. This later proved quite useful because if it weren’t for those same introductions, they might never have achieved the next step in their plan for normalcy. They wanted American citizenship.
You see, they had an obstacle: Thanks to a 1790 federal statute, only “free white individuals” could apply to become naturalized citizens in the USA…which they were not. So, the twins were going to need help from someone higher up…
43. They Became Naturalized Americans
Despite the federal statute, local governments tended to handle their citizenship cases according to the ideologies of their constituents, meaning that Chang and Eng could still potentially achieve their American dream if they talked to the right people. Fortunately, they were now acquainted with the members of the Wilkes society—including the county’s superior clerk, James W. Gwyn Jr., who agreed to administer the twins’ oath of allegiance.
Naturally, Chang and Eng were over the moon. But then, yet another predicament emerged.
44. They Needed A New Name
When the brothers arrived at the office to formalize their American citizenships, a revelation quickly came to light: Chang and Eng had no last name. Obviously, this would’ve caused a major pickle with their paperwork, so they hastily named themselves “Bunker” in honor of a lady they’d met in New York—although some sources say they actually just borrowed the surname of the man standing in line behind them.
Either way, mission accomplished: The twins officially became naturalized US citizens. But before you feel too happy for them and their American dream, hang on, because their story takes a bit of a twist…
45. They Became Slave Owners
Chang and Eng were eager to emulate the affluent lifestyles of their fellow 19th-century Southerners, which unfortunately meant participating in horrific acts that you wouldn’t think they’d want to engage in—such as slaveholding. Yet, they willingly purchased 30 slaves to labor on their farm, which must have made for some fascinating mental gymnastics given the level of offense they’d taken to past rumors about their own enslavement.
Still, as much as they tried to “fit in,” some hurdles were just too high.
46. They Fell In Love
Chang and Eng met their neighbors, the Yates family, shortly after establishing their farm, and their gaze quickly fell on two of the Yates daughters, Sarah and Adelaide. While Sarah was allegedly the “simple” and “more portly, fair one,” Adelaide, who “excelled in personal beauty,” was younger, taller, and thinner than Sarah and was also said to have more refined taste.
To Chang and Eng, it seemed like a match made in heaven. But alas, love can be complicated…
47. They Both Desired The Same Sister
The Bunker’s courtship of the Yates sisters was unusually dramatic because both Chang and Eng fell in love with Sarah, tossing poor Adelaide aside to kick rocks. Of course, despite their unique circumstance, the two brothers couldn’t possibly marry the same woman, so Chang eventually settled for Adelaide—or maybe Sarah just liked Eng better, who knows. Either way, the twins soon announced their intentions to wed.
And the public didn’t take the news very well.
48. Their Relationships Caused An Uproar
The happy couples declared their intent to marry by riding in an open wagon together. It should’ve been the happiest moment of their lives—but instead, it turned into a nightmare. The media insulted them, the entire town flew into a tizzy, and a few local men even went as far as to shatter the Yates’ windows the night before the wedding.
They even threatened to destroy the Yates’ crops if Sarah and Adelaide’s father refused to “manage his daughters.” Sheesh. Still, the hate didn’t stop the lovebirds.
49. They Got Married Anyway
It must have felt like the world was against them, but it didn’t matter. On April 13, 1843, Chang and Eng Bunker married Adelaide and Sarah Yates. While they all shared a home at first—and a colossal bed—the twins eventually built two separate houses for their respective families and traded off between them every three days.
And their unique home dynamic, er, paid off pretty well…
50. They Had A LOT Of Babies
As a whole, the number of Chang and Eng’s children could have filled an entire classroom. Their first babies arrived just six days apart, with Sarah giving birth on February 10, 1844, and then Adelaide on February 16. Although other sources cite different numbers, Chang and Adelaide had ten children altogether, while Eng and Sarah had eleven, which…is a lot of diapers.
If only there was a grandmother around to help. Oh, wait…
51. Their Mother Thought They’d Passed On
Remember poor Nok, the mother the twins left behind? The woman to whom everyone promised that Chang and Eng would only be gone for five years? Um, yeah, it turned out that she 100% thought her sons were dead this entire time. She hadn’t seen nor heard from them in 15 years by this point, and only learned through Christian missionaries in 1845 that not only were her boys still alive, they were also happily married with families of their own.
Sadly though, she ended up dying just four years later. PSA: Always call your mom, guys.
52. They Wanted To Separate
As Chang and Eng grew older, the sinister reality of their condition set in. They began to worry about what would happen if one of them fell ill, or worse, passed. So, whenever the twins traveled for the odd performance, they were now the ones who’d seek out the physicians, hoping that someone would be willing to perform a surgical separation.
Unfortunately, each visit always proved to be a letdown, as every surgeon warned them that the operation would be lethal. Regardless, the twins clung to their optimism and continued seeking medical advice for a potential procedure until they were more than 60 years old. But as depressing as that sounds, don’t worry; their lives really weren’t all that bad…
53. They Became Ridiculously Wealthy
Chang and Eng became incredibly money-savvy over the years and successfully generated a lot of income in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Indeed, their investments performed so well that they could afford to acquire more than one residence while still living in the lap of luxury as plantation owners. Nevertheless, the twins’ business acumen never seemed to garner much respect from the public.
On the contrary, the media continued to criticize them for a horrifying reason…
54. They Used Child Labor
By 1850, 10 of Chang and Eng’s 18 slaves were younger than seven years old, meaning that the vast majority of the Bunkers’ laborers were actually very young children. Worse, the twins didn’t even keep some of the kids to work their plantations, oh no. Instead, they later flipped them for profit, which was really just a different kind of horror.
Even so, Chang and Eng disputed any wrongdoing on their part.
55. They Defended Their Actions
Of course, the twins denied all allegations of mistreatment. First, the twins claimed that their spouses oversaw the children and treated them very kindly, even raising cash for their schooling. Secondly, because their farms cultivated food and not tobacco, this apparently meant that their plantations served only to feed the people who lived there and didn’t exist for profit, which somehow was supposed to make the whole situation seem better. Sure, sure.
Despite their excuses, the media continued to portray the Bunkers’ treatment of their slaves as being unusually severe. And the negative press was just getting warmed up, too.
56. They Became Unwilling Political Symbols
With the Civil War looming on the horizon, citizens in the United States soon began splitting into two factions. And because the press loved to use Chang and Eng as media fodder, journalists chose to unfairly exploit the twins’ conjoined condition as a metaphor for the divide in political opinion, which probably didn’t help Chang and Eng’s dwindling public image.
But the twins were already focused on other problems…
57. They Began To Struggle Financially
Chang and Eng both had huge families to support, and despite their many business ventures, it started to look more and more like they’d have to come out of their semi-retirement from the exhibition industry. So, the twins resumed touring and even occasionally featured their own children in their acts. They also scored a brief contract with P.T. Barnum, which undoubtedly gave them a nice boost, too.
Still, Chang and Eng’s finances were about to take a major hit.
58. They Lost Their Bread And Butter
Chang and Eng quickly found themselves in dire straits when the Civil War ended in 1865. A lot of their money was in Confederate currency (now worthless), and following the Emancipation Proclamation, all of their slaves had to be set free. Now suddenly down a good chunk of their money and unable to run their farmland alone, the twins would again have to showcase themselves as freaks to make ends meet.
But disastrously, Chang and Eng’s exhibition wasn’t as well-received this time around…
59. They Lost Their Spectatorship
Calamitously, because Chang and Eng were former Confederate slaveholders, a large chunk of their audiences suddenly turned sour. So in desperation, the twins decided to change up their act by playing the sympathy card. They were just two elderly men with large families to support…They’d only grudgingly backed the Confederates; none of it was for realsies, and…Oh! They both had sons injured or captured in battle! And, and…
Needless to say, their performance didn’t elicit a whole lot of compassion from the crowds. Then, to make matters even worse, the unthinkable happened…
60. Chang’s Health Deteriorated
After finding success in Europe once more in 1870, the twins were traveling aboard a ship on their way back home when terrifyingly, Chang’s right side suddenly went paralyzed. He’d suffered a devastating stroke, and it was damaging enough to Chang’s system that his right leg had to remain in a sling for the rest of his days. Sadly, this effectively ended the twins’ freakshow performances once and for all.
And Chang—who was much moodier than Eng—didn’t cope with the situation very well…
61. Chang Grew Sicker
Unhappy, Chang promptly took to drinking. Heavily. But, as horrible as Chang’s condition was, I can only imagine what it was like for Eng to have to perpetually care for an inebriated guy tethered to his side. Then four years later, Chang’s health deteriorated even further when he caught bronchitis in January 1874. Concerned, their doctor advised the twins to remain indoors to allow Chang to heal.
Except, the twins had an agreement to switch houses every three days, remember?
62. Their Worst Fear Came True
On January 15, the Bunker brothers made the trek through the wintery cold from Chang’s house to Eng’s house. Sadly, it was a fatal mistake. Though Chang’s health appeared to improve the next day, his breathing had become so much more difficult by the evening that the twins had to spend the night resting upright in a chair by the fireplace.
However, this was uncomfortable for Eng, who was having trouble sleeping, so he requested that they return to their bed. Then, the following morning, one of Eng’s sons woke him with the devastating news: Chang had died. And understandably, Eng panicked.
63. Eng Refused To Leave His Brother
Upon hearing the horrifying news that his twin brother was gone, Eng’s response was heartbreaking. He cried: “Then I am going!” And for the next hour, he suffered in great agony and misery. He broke into a cold sweat, and at one point, he even moved Chang’s body to be closer to him. Although the family quickly sent for a doctor, Eng died on January 17, a little over two hours after Chang passed. They were 62.
But still, the brothers couldn’t be left in peace…
64. The Doctors Performed An Autopsy
The public demanded an autopsy after learning of Chang and Eng’s passing. Although rumors floated that the doctors paid the Bunker widows for permission to examine their husbands’ remains, it’s more than probable that they just coerced Sarah and Adelaide into allowing it in the name of science. Either way, Chang and Eng’s bodies were kept cold for two weeks before finally being transported to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
And the autopsy results, while scientifically fascinating, were also incredibly heartbreaking…
65. Eng Suffered A Terrible Ending
While the autopsy results revealed various facts about the twins’ condition, including that they shared a liver through their connecting band, they also disclosed what ultimately ended their lives. Distressingly, the examination showed that, while Chang passed from a cerebral blood clot, Eng’s subsequent demise wasn’t actually the result of any physical ailment.
Despite alternative theories, Eng likely passed from the brutally intense shock of having his worst nightmare realized…remaining connected to his deceased twin brother. What a horrible way to go.
66. Their Legacy Lives On
Before finally laying Chang and Eng to rest, physicians photographed the twins’ connective tissue, had their conjoined livers preserved in a jar of fluid, and commissioned an artist to make a plaster cast of their bodies. Chang and Eng’s liver and plaster casts are now on permanent display at The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.
And finally, decades after their sad end, the twins’ bodies were ultimately buried at the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery outside Mount Airy in North Carolina in 1917.