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5 Famous Sideshow Entertainers


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Chang and Eng
Chang and Eng Bunker, the namesake of the phrase “Siamese twins,” pose with their children. © Don Troiani/Historical/Corbis
Chang and Eng Bunker, the namesake of the phrase “Siamese twins,” pose with their children. © Don Troiani/Historical/Corbis

Even those barely familiar with sideshow acts have probably heard of the famous "Siamese Twins," Chang and Eng. While "conjoined twins" is the preferred language these days, Chang and Eng introduced the condition to popular culture. Born in Siam (present-day Thailand) in 1811, the men were joined at the chest. They eventually traveled to America and Europe where they performed in numerous sideshows and traveling troupes [source: Nickell].

By 1838 the twins had retired and become thoroughly entrenched in their American lives, so much so that they purchased a Southern plantation and owned 33 slaves [source: Nickell]. They married sisters and supposedly had a strict schedule since their wives lived in separate houses on opposite ends of the plantation: They spent three days at a time in each house. Between the two of them, 22 children were born. Ever the opportunist, P.T. Barnum enticed them out of retirement in 1850 so they could pay for college tuitions. They took another tour of Europe together, but in 1874 Chang died in his sleep. Although the twins didn't share any organs, Eng died a few hours later [source: Pednaud].