During the 1850s, and again after the Civil War, Chang and Eng returned to public exhibitions. In 1860, they met the famed showman, P. T. Barnum and worked for a brief time at his museum in New York City to support their growing families. Barnum also sponsored their tour to Europe. While in Europe, the brothers once again investigated the possibility of separation. The danger was still deemed too great, and surgery was refused. As their health declined, the brothers desired to return home, and they came back to North Carolina in the early 1870s.
On January 17, 1874, Eng was awakened in the middle of the night by a strange sensation. Looking towards his brother, Eng quickly realized that Chang had died. Eng called for his son William, who ran through the house shouting “Uncle Chang is dead! ” Within hours, Eng was dead, too. Several weeks later, the bodies were brought to Philadelphia by a commission appointed by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
An autopsy was performed by Drs. Harrison Allen and William H. Pancoast at the Mtter Museum. It was determined that Chang had died of a cerebral clot. It was unclear, however, why Eng had died. Some physicians suggested that he died of fright. Today, it is thought that Eng bled to death, as the blood pooled in his dead brother’s body. Chang and Eng changed the way society viewed conjoined twins and people with profound physical differences. They proved that those who were different can have normal lives: jobs, spouses, and a healthy family.
Chang and Eng introduced the term “Siamese Twins” into our language, and introduced the world to a side of nature that was usually hidden away, ignored, or feared. Chang and Eng led the way for numerous other conjoined twins who have since benefited from the acceptance they demanded and received from society at large. For further information on Chang and Eng Bunker, see Wallace and Wallace, 1978. The “Siamese Twins” As Cultural Metaphor By the time they died, Chang and Eng were among the most widely known people in the United States.
They were the subjects of newspaper articles, books, poetry, satires, lithographs, and plays. They were also a popular subject for masquerade parties. But at that time, these United States were not so united, and in Chang and Eng, Americans saw their own political struggle embodied. Alison Pingree (1996) has documented the tensions surrounding the “Siamese Twins”. As “America struggled with its configurations of government (divided states within a united nation) and domesticity (marriage, in particular),” the twins continually raised the question: Are they two or one?
The twin’s bond was seen as an argument for union and the fusion of the states, while the alternative explanation was that such a connection was “monstrous” and unnatural. Similarly, while the story of the twins’ marriages was seen as the triumph of domesticity, these “marriages raised the specters of homosexuality, incest, adultery, and exotic orgies of flesh which profoundly confronted the heterosexual marital norms of Victorian America. ” This tension was not merely implicit.
It became explicit in the advertisements for the twins. In 1830, Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster made a stunning speech against the separatists in Congress. He concluded it by urging loyalty to “the sentiment, dear to every true American heart–Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable! ” This phrase was to become so popular that it even got into McGuffy’s Reader to be memorized by schoolchildren. The motto was also reprinted on the 1836 handbill accompanying the twins’ performances.
The handbill was entitled “A Few Particulars concerning Chang-Eng, The United Siamese Brothers. ” Under the title was an American Eagle with shield, emblazoned with “E pluribus unum. ” As a legend, if people didn’t understand the point being made, was Webster’s quotation: “Union and Liberty, one and inseparable, now and forever. ” The use of Chang and Eng to model American politics was continued into the 1840s, and the material stressed that they were really one person (as in the hyphenated name Chang-Eng).
The attempts to surgically separate them and the ultimate decision not to sever the strand were seen as potent political allegories. The sexual tension was explicitely commented on also. Before their marriages, speculation was rife as to how such unions could be made. They had “each found his other half”, and even though unmarried, could never be single men. Pamphlets written about the twins’ marriages showed only one home (when they actually lived in two) and compared their domesticity with that of their homeland.
But in pointing out that they were now “superior” to the polygamous customs of Siam, they also invited speculation that a piece of that exotic culture was alive and thriving in North Carolina. Pingree views Chang and Eng as offering “an open canvas upon which America could encode its dominant ideologies of democracy and domesticity. Ironically, though, even as the ‘United Siamese Brothers’ were presented as idealized literalizations of brotherhood and sameness, and of romantic and marital stability, their contorted, fused bodies also offered, to such ideals, deep challenges indeed. “