Thursday, May 7, 2009
Like these guys, for instance. At an immaculately styled shop in Chicago, a group of these figurines stood on a small silver tray -- a little army of duos. Some wore sky blue tunics, some sage green. This pair was the only one with terra cotta and gold stripes.
When I picked them up for closer inspection, I noticed the sticker said "Chang and Eng". I knew those names! From North Carolina!
A bit of background: Born in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811, Chang and Eng Bunker were connected at the chest. As teenagers, the twins traveled the world giving lectures and demonstrations. According to their travelogues, they visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1834. Chang and Eng were such international celebrities, the term "Siamese Twins" became the common name to describe conjoined twins.
After traveling the world, they came back to North Carolina and married two sisters, Adelaide and Sarah Yates of Wilkes County. The two families eventually produced 21 children!
Back to the haunt: When I asked the shopkeeper about the little Chang and Eng figurines, he said that John Derian (of decoupage fame) had found a lot of about a hundred of them in England, and that they had been made when the twins were worldwide celebrities. Mr Derian brought them back to the U.S., and this group of figurines ended up at my haunt. I think you could have knocked that shopkeeper over with a feather when he heard the North Carolina story... just seems out of left field.
I poured over the little rugged porcelain army, studying their painted faces and contemplating the colors of their robes until I settled on the best pair. Now they live on my desk, reminding me about the Old North State and all its variety, and how these two men made such rich lives.
Watercolor image and history source: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill University Libraries