A cry split the night, but for whatever reason, it raised no alarm in the large house outside Mt. Airy, NC. Doubtless just a dream, or more likely, a nightmare. A few hours later, the winter stillness was broken yet again, this time by a different voice. Upon awakening and seeing his twin brother dead beside him, Eng Bunker instantly recognized his fate:
"Then I am going," he cried in anguish. The bed they had shared through the years had become their deathbed, from which neither could escape or rise alone.
Eng and Chang Bunker -- the world's most famous connected twins, the ones who gave us the term "Siamese twins" -- had died on a cold January night in 1874. They left the world virtually the same way they had entered it 63 years before: simultaneously and not without scandal. Their lives had raised not only eyebrows, but numerous medical and philosophical questions. At least one of these -- Would the death of one precipitate the death of the other? -- was settled with their passing.
Or was it?
The cause of death -- half of it, that is -- remains a riddle. Chang had suffered a stroke four years before and his health had become frail. He also had been drinking heavily for some time, had recently been injured in a carriage spill and had acquired a bad case of bronchitis. Eng, on the other hand had been in top form, seemingly unaffected by his brother's declining health.
After their death, one medical camp held that while Chang had died of a blood clot, Eng had died of shock. In other words, believing that the death of his brother would cause his own demise, Eng was scared literally to death. Another theory held that the five-inch-long and three-inch-wide band that connected the twins was a lifeline which, barring immediate surgical intervention, would pass death from one to the other. An autopsy found the blood clot in Chang's brain, but it couldn't resolve the debate over the cause of Eng's death.
This was not the only controversy surrounding the event. But perhaps these extraordinary lives should be put into context. Refer to the "Guinness Book of World Records," and you find a paltry seven-line paragraph. From this, you may learn that the twins were born near Bangkok, in the isolated kingdom of Siam (which became Thailand in 1939), to Chinese parents; they were named "right" and "left," later married sisters from Wilkes County, N.C., and fathered 22 children between them (no pun intended).
Within this brief biography there are no fewer than three errors. Only one parent was full-blooded Chinese. The mother was half Chinese and half Malay. According to the book, "Famous Thai People," the names most likely described the green and ripe states of a native fruit. As to their offspring, Chang and Eng fathered 21 children -- Eng had 11 and Chang had 10, none of which were twins, connected or otherwise.
Certainly, their connected lives aroused much attention and rumor. But behind the speculations and suspicions, were the lives of two sometimes charming, sometimes cantankerous men who, saddled with a dual existence, made a life for themselves that many could envy. They did not die childless and alone, drunkard freaks who had worn out the curiosity of a fickle public. They lived with dignity, and were among few celebrities known and seen across America and much of Europe. Even before they married in 1843, they were described by one writer as "the eighth wonder of the world."