Twins, and Jefferson Davis times two

Published 10:17 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2015

By Frank Roberts

Negatively or positively, the Civil War is a popular subject these days but, what do we know about Honest Abe — honestly, not too much.

For instance, did you know he was a victim of spousal abuse? His wife, Mary, smacked him around several times, and she wasn’t even a Democrat. Once, she whacked his snoop with a piece of wood; another time, she punched him in the face, and she was known as “a thrower of things.” Oh, and speaking of pain, she once ripped out a piece of his beard. Ouch!

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Jefferson Davis — if you were a Confederate, you loved him; if you were a Yankee, you loved him. If you’re a history teacher, you probably think I’ve lost my marbles.

Here’s the deal. You know about Jefferson Davis, but you probably don’t know about Jefferson Davis. Jefferson Davis was the Confederate leader; Jefferson Davis was a Union general.

Yep — they shared the name. During the Battle of Chickamauga, in 1863, members of the 21st Ohio saw a swarm of men approaching, but couldn’t tell — friend or foe? Most assumed they were Union reinforcements, but some thought they were Confederates. As the troops grew closer, a Union soldier called out, “What troops are you?” The reply: “Jeff Davis’s troops.”

So the Ohioans relaxed, thinking they were talking about their man, but a few moments later, they were looking at the muzzles and bayonets of the 7th Florida. The Ohioans surrendered, and the Confederates won that battle.

More Civil War confusion. Chang and Eng Bunker, known as “the original Siamese twins,” (born in Siam, now known as Thailand) became a popular attraction in traveling exhibitions. In 1839 they bought 110 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. They married twins and, using slave labor, built a successful farm.

They became naturalized citizens and devoted Confederates. In 1865, Union Gen. George Stoneman raided North Carolina and decided to draft some of the locals, regardless of sympathies. Names were put into a lottery wheel.

Eng’s name was drawn, Chang’s was not. Eventually, neither fought, but their sons enlisted and, as expected, fought for the Confederacy.

From Siamese twins who didn’t go to battle, to blood-soaked Siamese twins who battled to stay alive. The location? The Brighton, England, slums. Violet and Daisy Skinner were the daughters of an unmarried grocery clerk, Daisy Skinner. The girls were raised by a relative, described as “a shrewd and calculating woman.”

She exhibited the youngsters wherever there was money to be made. Following her death, the twosome was brought to America, where they were displayed as sideshow shockers, switching eventually to legitimate shows and eventually becoming well off.

They appeared in a movie called “Chained For Life,” agreeing to appear if they could sing and dance. The movie did well, and the sisters were accepted for their talents.

“Chained For Life” was, in effect, their life story. Eventually they appeared on Broadway, and they learned self-hypnosis, taught by none other than Harry Houdini.

Violet married during the Texas Centennial in ’36, a marriage soon annulled. When the novelty of their lives died down, they worked as cashiers. They moved to Charlotte and died of pneumonia soon afterwards, alone and forgotten, except by their manager, who disappeared with all their money.

A quote from Violet: “We’ve always said we were like other people, yet different; from the moment we started to crawl, and the leg of the table got between us and we couldn’t pass.”

And then there are 7-year-old twin sisters, Kian and Remee — not Siamese twins, but they have their own story.

Kian is black and has big brown eyes; Remee is a pale-skinned, blue-eyed blonde. Side by side, they obviously look nothing alike. The twins were born a minute apart.

The odds of a mixed race couple having twins of different colors are a million to one.

Others might, but they don’t notice the color difference. They’ve grown up surrounded by black and white people.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at