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Biographical Sketch of Millie Christine, the Carolina Twin, Surnamed the Two-Headed Nightingale and the Eighth Wonder of the World
Cincinnati: Hennegan & Co. Print, [between 1902 and 1912].

Summary

The identity of the author of Biographical Sketch of Millie Christine, the Carolina Twin, Surnamed the Two-Headed Nightingale and the Eighth Wonder of the World is unknown. Also unknown is how close she or he actually was to the subjects of the Biographical Sketch.

Those subjects, Millie and Christine McKoy, were twin sisters who were born into slavery in Columbus County, North Carolina, in 1851. Sometimes called Millie-Christine McKoy, the twins were conjoined at birth. They were connected at the lower spine and shared one pelvis, but each sister had two arms and two legs. Both sisters—as well as their parents, Jacob and Monemia—were owned by a blacksmith named Jabez McKay; the twins later adopted the slightly modified "McKoy" as their own last name. The sisters' unusual anatomy began to attract curious visitors almost immediately after their birth, and when the sisters were ten months old, McKay sold them for $1,000 to a showman interested in exhibiting them. Millie and Christine eventually ended up in the possession of Joseph Pearson Smith, who hired them out to various road shows, where they were billed as "The Carolina Twins." By the age of three, they were appearing in P.T. Barnum's famed American Museum in New York City. During this period, one of the showmen charged with exhibiting the twins stole them away from Smith and took them to England. Smith eventually found the girls in England and, with Monemia at his side, sued to regain custody of them. He won this suit, and the sisters returned to Wadesboro, North Carolina, where Smith had relocated the girls' parents and siblings.

Smith's wife taught Millie and Christine how to read, write, sing, dance, and play the piano; she also taught them to deliver recitations in German and French. The twins used these skills when they were again exhibited, this time as the "Two Headed Girl" or the "Two Headed Nightingale." After Emancipation, the twins decided to remain with the Smiths. They continued to appear widely for nearly thirty years: in the summer of 1871, they again traveled to England, where they performed for Queen Victoria, who presented the pair with diamond hairclips. In the 1880s, the sisters joined Barnum's traveling circus, but they retired to Columbus County at the end of the decade. Throughout their career and retirement, Millie and Christine gave financial support to black schools and churches. When Millie died of tuberculosis in October 1912, doctors gave Christine morphine to help end her life quickly and painlessly. Still, some accounts say that Christine outlived her twin by as many as 17 hours.

The Biographical Sketch contains a third-person narrative about the life of Millie and Christine, framed by letters, newspaper articles and advertisements about the twins. For example, the opening pages of the pamphlet reprint letters from railroad company officials meant to assure railroad conductors that the twins should be charged only one fare when they travel.

The biographical narrative portion of the pamphlet—which consistently refers to Millie and Christine in the singular—greatly dramatizes the twins' early kidnapping and Joseph P. Smith's efforts to recover them. To locate the missing girls, Smith hires "one of the shrewdest detectives in the country" to track them (p. 6). Later, when the kidnapper is found guilty in English court, the men in the courtroom are so moved by the captor's cruel treatment of the twins that they attempt to harm him. The kidnapper is forced to escape "by jumping from the second story window" of the courtroom, which saves him "from certain and well-merited punishment" (p. 8).

When Mr. Smith dies in 1860, the twins experience his death "as rather the affliction of one who had lost a beloved father rather than a master" (p. 11). Both Mr. Smith's death and the Civil War leave the Smiths and the McKoys in dire financial straits, and so in order to "retrieve the fallen fortunes of the family," Millie and Christine consent "to place [themselves] on exhibition" again (p. 11). The twins prove so popular an attraction that the receipts from their exhibitions help their father, Jacob, buy Mr. Smith's plantation, the same plantation where Jacob himself had once been a slave.

At this point the biographical narrative ends and more materials relating to Millie and Christine are reprinted, including "a few of the medical and surgical reports on Millie Christine's physical organization" (p. 11). Other materials in this section include letters from newspaper editors who had met the twins, lyrics to the songs they sang during their shows, and newspaper coverage of their audience with Queen Victoria. This collection of reprinted materials serves two purposes. First, it is verifies that Millie and Christine's unique anatomy is a biological fact and not a hoax. Second, it aims to demonstrate that the twins are, in words attributed to the New York Times, "pleasing in appearance, agreeable in [their] manners, and endowed with good conversational powers" (p. 24). The Biographical Sketch thus musters a wide range of documentary evidence to support its claim that Millie and Christine McKoy, while anatomically unique, are far from monstrous.

Documenting the American South has published another autobiographical account of Millie and Christine's McKoy's life.

Works Consulted: Keene, Ann T., "Millie and Christine McKoy," in American National Biography, online database (Oxford University Press, September 2005), (accessed August 9, 2007); Martell, Joanne, Millie-Christine: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2000.

Harry Thomas

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