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Siamese twins sitting back to back

The History and art of the Siamese Twins Violet and Daisy


In 1908 the first British Siamese twins to live for more than just a few weeks were born. Their story is tragic but their shows are beautiful.

One hundred and seven years ago, in England, Violet and Daisy Hilton were born, the first enjoined twins that lived for more than a few weeks. Because they were born out of wedlock, their mother, Kate Skinner, attributed their deformity to a punishment by God and she sold them to her boss, Mary Hilton, who saw in them a unique opportunity to get rich.

Anatomical rarities have always caught our attention: a lacking of something, disproportionate dimensions, and the characteristically unique are sufficient factors to draw a public that is prepared to pay to see them. To pay to be awestruck, to feel normal for a few moments and to give flight to the imagination: How do two women joined at the back go to the bathroom? How are their love lives? What do they feel?

Siamese Twins sitting side by side reading a bookContrary to popular belief, in the twins’ era the exploitation of congenital defects was not so common. The majority of the “human wonders” exhibited themselves voluntarily and often received enormous personal and financial gain (without dismissing the fact, of course, that this was a kind of ‘self-exploitation’ generated by the social constructs regarding deformities). The story of the twins, however, is very far from the ordinary.

According to the twins’ autobiography, written in 1942, Mary Hilton systematically abused them, isolated them from the world and trained them in all kinds of arts of entertainment, above all in the vaudeville tradition, to profit from their anomaly at a time when circuses and freak shows were a sensation. By the age of three, Violet and Daisy were traveling the world offering piano and violin recitals, and because they had the appearance of dolls, their fame grew as Mary Hilton became rich.

The twins did not share internal organs and the only thing that really joined them was bone, muscle and skin along their backs. As a result they survived for many years and could move “gracefully” and lead a life (in biological terms) that was relatively independent of one other. When Mary eventually died, the twins’ custody passed to her daughter Edith Hilton and her husband Meyer Meyers, who were even worse than Mary, as they controlled the twins’ every movement, and who had developed an impressive talent as dancers and singers.

The Hiltons eventually sued their agents Edith and Meyers for slavery and at the age of 23 received $100,000 in damages. That would have been enough to keep them for an indefinite period, but as they did not know how to handle the outside world and they had never possessed money, their life of excess led them to bankruptcy. During that time they acquired US residency and had their own show, The Hilton Sisters, they appeared in the film Freaks by Tod Browning and had enough romances to overcome their 20-year isolation.

The last time the twins appeared in public was in a drive-in movie theater in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1962. In fact their manager abandoned them there because their tour had been a failure. With no money or transportation, the twins decided to stay in Charlotte; they found work in a grocery store and spent the rest of their lives there. When they didn’t show up for work on January 4, 1969, their boss called the police and they were found dead at home. According to the report, Daisy died first and Violet two days later. A dark story from beginning to end.

All of the years of training and performance however polished their innate talent, and their work remains recorded in two documentaries and numerous television shows. Here are some of their adorable performances:

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