Chang and Eng illustration, Currier and Ives, 1860.
Chang and Eng illustration, Currier and Ives, 1860.

Chang and Eng, Famous Siamese Twins

Field review by the editors.

Mount Airy, North Carolina

Andy Griffith may be Mount Airy's favorite son, but Chang and Eng are definitely numbers two and three (or just number two). "The united brothers" were born conjoined in 1811 in what is now Thailand. Bucking odds greater than two to one, they thrived, became worldwide celebrities, and inadvertently introduced the term "Siamese Twins" into the english lexicon. In 1839 they used their celebrity status to become American citizens, and in 1843 they met and married North Carolina sisters Adelaide and Sarah Yates. As a wedding present, the bride's father gave them an enslaved woman.

Chang and Eng's deathbed headboard.
Chang and Eng's deathbed headboard.

Chang and Eng, along with their wives and babies (and enslaved people) moved to Mount Airy in 1845 and became tobacco farmers. They lost their money in the Civil War -- they had backed the Rebels -- and went back on the tour circuit. Chang died on January 17, 1874, and Eng followed about 50 minutes later, before a doctor could arrive to try to cut them apart. Their bodies were sent to Philadelphia's Mutter Museum for an autopsy, and eventually buried in the White Plains Baptist Church graveyard.

Chang and Eng Siamese Twins exhibit.

As the adopted home of Chang and Eng, Mount Airy has a permanent exhibit about the twins at its Surry Arts Council complex. Items on display includes vintage souvenir figurines and admission tickets from their touring days, and artifacts from the Chang and Eng households -- each had a separate home -- including the headboard of their death bed. The walls in the gallery are hung with old photos and promotional illustrations, including an 1860 lithograph that shows the two brothers conjointly shooting guns, chopping down a tree, and plowing a field. Modern items include a sign from North Carolina's Chang and Eng Memorial Bridge, a model of an unfortunately never-built statue of the twins, a variety of Chang and Eng biographical books ("Duet for a Lifetime," "The Two," "Inseparable"), and a 2019 plaque naming Mount Airy the sister city of Samut Songkhram Province, Thailand.

One of the many remarkable factoids about Chang and Eng is that Adelaide had 10 kids by Chang, and Sarah had 12 by Eng. Their numerous descendants gather in Mount Airy every July for a family reunion.

Chang and Eng, Famous Siamese Twins

Address:
218 Rockford St., Mount Airy, NC
Directions:
I-77 exit 100 to Hwy 89/Pine St. east into town. At Moody's Funeral Home, turn right at the traffic light onto Graves St. At the top of the hill, turn right onto Rockford St. The Chang and Eng exhibit is part of the Surry Arts Council complex. Look for the brick buildings on the right.
Hours:
M-Sa 9-5, Su 1-5 Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Admission:
Adults $8.
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October 26, 2020

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