Episode 231: Dollop: Chang and Eng

Dave: Did you just call them Siamese twins?

Gareth:…Wait a minute…are these the Wright brothers?

Dave: I thought you were putting stuff together, but you’re not.

The second Dollop subject in American Horror Story: Freak Show, the first being Lobster Boy. Conjoined twins are shown twice in the opening credits, one doll exchanging a head with another doll, the other near the very end, those two twins kissing.


And a link to one more of The Dollop’s sideshow friends: Mike the Chicken

The Two: The Story of the Original Siamese Twins * Irving Wallace

Born Different: Amazing Stories of Very Special People * Frederick Drummer (condescending title, in my humble opinion, but hey)

The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam’s Twins in Nineteenth-Century America * Joseph Andrew Orser

A new special Dollop-y tag is born from this episode: the red flaggiest of red flags

A brilliant analysis of The Chinese Question, as named and decried by Harper’s Bazaar cartoonist Thomas Nast, by thomasnastcartoons.com:

In a bid to strengthen his Irish constituency, (Senator William M.) Tweed sought to restrict the use of Chinese railroad labor through legislative means. While a state senator, Tweed sponsored a bill to prevent the Chinese from being hired on projects.  Although Chinese population in New York was statistically minute,  estimated to be only 200 at the time, Tweed favored invasion vernacular to stoke fear within a male, Caucasian workforce.

Hunh. Stoking unfounded racist immigration fears in a white working class for political gain. That sounds so hauntingly familiar…

Chinese are in kind referred to as “coolies” “slaves,” “paupers” and “rat eaters.” Rat eaters in particular became a favorite and virulent Chinese stereotype deployed to great effect, especially on the West Coast,  in order to dehumanize the Chinese and affirm their “otherness.”  “Barbarians” and “heathens” are additional descriptive terms prominently displayed. The placards pronounce the Chinese as the “lowest and vilest of human race,” “vicious and immoral” declares another.  Nast’s wall is an effective tool. It collects the hate speech used within the local white labor community.  Each layer of verbal expression collects and builds like pounds in a pressure cooker. Workingmen would stop at no insult to rid themselves of the Chinese menace. The Chinese must go. “Their importation must be stopped.” Nast plastered the prejudice for all to see their ugly truth, and consider the lie.

Deja vu.

Denis Kearney. I now believe in reincarnation.

A huge instigator of The Chinese Question and sinophobia was Denis Kearney, a racist and nativist labor leader who ended every speech, no matter the topic, with “And whatever happens, the Chinese must go”, because, apparently, he thought he was a Roman senator.

To give you some more deja vu, this ass hated the press almost as much as immigrants. Ringing any bells? Yeah, so Hateful Toga helped to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, signed into federal law by President Chester A. Arthur, forbidding Asian immigration.

When the Chinese question is settled, we can discuss whether it would be better to hang, shoot, or cut the capitalists to pieces. In six months we will have 50,000 mean ready to go out. . . and if ‘John’ don’t leave here, we will drive him and his aborts into the sea… We are ready to do it… If the ballot fails, we are ready to use the bullet.

So, this was the social environment in which Chang and Eng were not only racial curiosities, but also sexual curiosities. You can see why things might have been a little…tense. And gross. And grossly tense.

“You think them rat-eaters fuck both their wives? I betcha they share. They hafta! They’s connected.”


Okay, to veer away from politics…I have a thing about names. They fascinate me–and sometimes horrify me. Look, I don’t have any children, so maybe I am talking out of turn, but I don’t think having twins is anyone’s opportunity to be cute with names. Brad and Chad, that sort of thing. Yeah, don’t. Plus, twins have extra challenges in life. Some people are creeped out by them (not me, I said some people), pervs are always bugging them for threesomes, all that nonsense. And if they are conjoined…a lifetime of struggle. So if you have conjoined twins, don’t be like Chang and Eng’s mother and name them Right and Left. Fuuuuuck. Look, if I had identical twins, I would fear mixing them up. I would not be above a Sharpie tattoo on the bottom of someone’s cute foot, just until I adjusted to who’s who. But these guys are always going to be on the right and the left. They aren’t going to switch it up as a prank. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, or do that weird cry-laugh that scares the dogs.

One of the things twins have had to tolerate is twin tests. I leave you in the competent hands of the Smithsonian: A Brief History of Twin Studies

Chang and Eng Reconnected: The Original Siamese Twins in American Culture * Cynthia Wu

Now, about the Bunkers’ wives, Adelaide and Sarah Yates. I have an LGBTQ question about this photo (source), and I’ll bet I’m not the only one. I don’t know which wife is which here, but I do believe one is dressed in a suit and men’s shoes. We all know what a serious social violation this would have been, thanks to the Battle of the Pants, so I ask you…is it just me or is Mrs. Bunker dressed masculine at a very unfriendly–unsafe–time to do so?

That photo is unlabeled; I am uncertain of which Yates-Bunker is which (is whom, excuse me), or when this photo was taken. Compare this one, circa 1865 (and obviously later) taken by Mathew Brady. On the right is Chang, his wife Adelaide, and their son Patrick Henry; on the left is Eng, his wife Sarah, and their son Albert:

Fascinating how their appearances were altered for this broadsheet engravings–headscarves, darkened skin, facial features changed…to make them as alien as possible?

So I guess the wife in a suit in the first photo is Adelaide. Interesting.

My initial thoughts on Abel Coffin: If a guy shows up with a slick deal, and his first name is that of the first murder victim, and his last name is a burial device, take a hard pass on that one. That’s two bad omens in one–consider it a gift from the universe, and keep on truckin’.

Eng and Chang Bunker Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: nice collection with letters written by the twins, photographs, engravings from their exhibitions, and the like.

For the more lurid lookee-loos, the Mutter Museum has their connected livers, castings of their joined torsos, and a special chair that was built for them. And they have a true sense of the whimsy about it:

Report of an Autopsy on the Bodies of Chang and Eng Bunker, Commonly Known as the Siamese Twins * Allen Harrison 1841-1897

Since I mentioned Chapel Hill, I am taking you to Tangent Town, because that’s what I do: my ancestor, Brig. General James Johnston Pettigrew, who led Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, attended UNC-Chapel Hill, and there is a Pettigrew rotunda on campus named for him. It is all connected, Rubes. Now, didn’t that cleanse your palate after all that earlier disgusting racism? And yes, my maiden name is Pettigrew. Pettigrew-Hufstedler. Mouthful, ain’t it?

Has their adopted homeplace, Mount Airy, North Carolina, sounded familiar at all? That’s because it’s Andy Griffith’s hometown, and the basis for Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD. Commence to whistling the theme song. (everything’s connected)

Chang and Eng * Darin Strauss — novel based upon their lives — film rights purchased by Gary Oldman and Douglas Urbanski. Oldman is currently writing the screenplay and plans to direct the film.

Oh, and for all the completist geeks like me who just like to know stuff: the connective chest cartilege bridging the Bunkers is called a xiphopagus. You’re welcome.

Band names from this episode:

  • Coffin and Hunter
  • Dr. Morals
  • Cake Feelings
  • Arguetube–first Top Ten hit “Tummy Dick”
  • Side Brother and Potato Girl

Gareth: Here’s the thing: Any time the man comes to your area and talks about a big upside with some, like, grandiose scheme where you can’t really, like, check him? Probably say no.
Dave: Based on The Dollop, I would avoid him, yes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to Top
We use cookies in order to give you the best possible experience on our website. By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies. We do not store personal info.