Posted in History, North Carolina Time Traveler, tagged Archives, cemeteries, circus, conjoined twins, historical markers, Mount Airy, North Carolina State Archives, Siamese twins, side show performers on July 18, 2012 |
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I don’t think that many people are aware that the two most famous sets of conjoined twins in the 19th century called North Carolina home – Chang and Eng Bunker (the original Siamese Twins) and Millie-Christine McKoy (the Carolina Twins or the Two-Headed Nightingale).
Chang and Eng Bunker, image courtesy of the North Carolina State Archives.
Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Thailand (then Siam) in 1811, amassed a fortune for themselves on the circus and exhibition circuit and retired to North Carolina in 1839. They first lived in Wilkes County, where they married sisters Sarah and Adelaide Yates. With growing families, the brothers purchased land in Surry County and built large homes a little over a mile apart. For the rest of their lives they spent 3 nights at one house and then 3 nights at the other. If you visit the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy you can see a large collection of Siamese Twin memorabilia. The North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill has Chang and Eng papers and artifacts.
Millie-Christine considered herself one person and railroad lines even issued letters to conductors instructing them to require only one ticket for the “dual woman.” She was born into slavery near Whiteville, Columbus County, in 1851.
Millie-Christine McKoy in England, image of original courtesy of the North Carolina State Archives.
Exhibited initially as a curiosity, the twins eventually learned to sing and dance. She even performed for Queen Victoria in England. Having eventually been able to profit from shows and exhibitions (after emancipation), Millie Christine purchased the Columbus County property on which she’d been born. The State Archives has manuscript collections for both Millie-Christine and Chang and Eng—they have put together an educational resource site that includes digitized images of some of the documents.
Chang and Eng and Millie-Christine are buried in North Carolina, and using findagrave.com, you can see their final resting places. (You can also see the grave of celebrated 20th century conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, who spent their last years working at a grocery store in Charlotte.)
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Old photographs are amazing – and I’m not talking about pictures of your first day of school or of the dreaded 1980s prom dress. I mean really old photographs – ones that convey details that have been otherwise lost to time.
An 1895 photograph of the Goldsboro Rifles Monument that showed wooden grave markers led archaeologists to revise their search parameters.
For many years people knew that there were Confederate soldiers buried somewhere near the Harper House at Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site. After the battle in 1865, about 20 wounded soldiers who could not be moved were left behind in the care of the family. As part of the History Channel’s “Save Our History” program, a cooperative effort between the Office of State Archaeology and Wake Forest University Archaeology Laboratories was launched in 2007 to try to locate their graves. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) was tried a number of times, without results.
But, in 2008 an old photograph was discovered—one that had been taken at the dedication of the 1895 Goldsboro Rifles Monument. It showed about 20 wooden grave markers and their general location could be distinguished.
Today the Goldsboro Rifles Monument is flanked by headstones that mark the graves of the unknown soldiers.
Using the photograph, archaeologists revised their GPR search parameters and discovered what are called “subsurface anomalies.” The electronic signatures suggested the presence of graves. These areas were carefully hand excavated, and they were indeed graves.
Last year, the Harper House/Bentonville Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy donated official Confederate headstones to mark the graves of the unknown soldiers. On Saturday, June 9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site will hold a 2nd Saturday event called “A Day in the Life of a Civil War Soldier.” If you visit, you can see the graves of those unknown Confederate soldiers whose day has come again.
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