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?
Contrary 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:
When ancient rituals became religion
The emergence of religions irreversibly changed the history of humanity. It’s therefore essential to ask when and how did ancient peoples’ rituals become organized systems of thought, each with their
Seven ancient maps of the Americas
A map is not the territory. —Alfred Korzybski Maps are never merely maps. They’re human projections, metaphors in which we find both the geographical and the imaginary. The cases of ghost islands
An artist crochets a perfect skeleton and internal organs
Shanell Papp is a skilled textile and crochet artist. She spent four long months crocheting a life-size skeleton in wool. She then filled it in with the organs of the human body in an act as patient
A musical tribute to maps
A sequence of sounds, rhythms, melodies and silences: music is a most primitive art, the most essential, and the most powerful of all languages. Its capacity is not limited to the (hardly trivial)
The enchantment of 17th-century optics
The sense of sight is perhaps one the imagination’s most prolific masters. That is why humankind has been fascinated and bewitched by optics and their possibilities for centuries. Like the heart, the
Would you found your own micro-nation? These eccentric examples show how easy it can be
Founding a country is, in some ways, a simple task. It is enough to manifest its existence and the motives for creating a new political entity. At least that is what has been demonstrated by the
Wondrous crossings: the galaxy caves of New Zealand
Often, the most extraordinary phenomena are “jealous of themselves” ––and they happen where the human eye cannot enjoy them. However, they can be discovered, and when we do find them we experience a
Think you have strange reading habits? Wait until you've seen how Mcluhan reads
We often forget or neglect to think about the infinite circumstances that are condensed in the acts that we consider habitual. Using a fork to eat, for example, or walking down the street and being
The sky is calling us, a love letter to the cosmos (video)
We once dreamt of open sails and Open seas We once dreamt of new frontiers and New lands Are we still a brave people? We must not forget that the very stars we see nowadays are the same stars and
The sister you always wanted (but made into a crystal chandelier)
Lucas Maassen always wanted to have a sister. And after 36 years he finally procured one, except, as strange as it may sound, in the shape of a chandelier. Maassen, a Dutch designer, asked the