From Freak Show to Jim Crow: A Siamese Twin and His Deaf Daughter in the Antebellum and Postbellum South

Autor/a: SAYERS, Edna Edith
Año: 2022
Editorial: Sign Language Studies, 22(4), 553-589
Tipo de código: Copyright
Soporte: Digital


Comunidad y cultura sorda, Historia, Arte y Cultura


ENG AND CHANG BUNKER (1811–1874) were conjoined twins of Chinese ethnicity born in Siam (today, Thailand). Before the Civil War, they toured the United States to exhibit themselves as a "human curiosity," a wonder of nature, their conjoined state documented by local doctors at each stop on their tours, and their exhibition touted as edifying and educational. At the same time, however, their skin and hair color and their facial features were widely ridiculed as racial markers. The American public was amazed, therefore, or, rather, aghast to learn in 1840 that these racialized "freaks of nature" had bought land in North Carolina's Piedmont, built a house, taken US citizenship and the last name Bunker, married two farmer's daughters, Sarah (Sally Ann) and Adelaide Yates, and were fathering with them what would become, respectively, eleven and ten children. Two of Chang and Adelaide's children, Louisa and Jesse, were born deaf in 1855 and 1861, respectively, and would attend school at the North Carolina Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind (NCIDDB) during its chaotic Reconstruction years of partial racial integration,1 where Louisa would marry a deaf teacher of semi-segregated "colored" deaf pupils. Meanwhile, the twins had returned to the freak show touring circuit, now as conjoined Southern gentlemen and fathers of growing families, exhibiting, along with their own anomalous bodies, sample well-dressed offspring who bore marked resemblances to themselves. Naturally, the two deaf children were never selected as co-exhibits, the point of exhibiting sample children, after all, being to show that the offspring of these "curiosities" were healthy, handsome, and acceptably "normal."